1. lowprofile300
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    lowprofile300 Active Member

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    Semicolon dilemma

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by lowprofile300, Dec 30, 2010.

    Hi guys, I am in trouble and I could use some advice here. I am currently working on a short story (3500 words), and I find myself using semicolons quite often. I will like to cut back, but whenever I have used them, it has been necessary, yet when I look back at my work, I am forced to concede that I have too many in the work. I feel like I am being molested by these semicolons. I will like to get rid of some of them. Any ideas will be appreciated.
     
  2. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    The best way would be to post up an excerpt of the work (which is semicolon heavy) in the review section (having met the critiquing requirements) and see what folk advise. A bit of a rigmarole, but necessary, since it's certainly not as straightforward as simply cutting them and replacing them with full stops.
     
  3. lowprofile300
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    lowprofile300 Active Member

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    Sounds like a good idea. I will do that. Thanks a bunch.
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Semicolons are almost never "necessary". You should be able to replace them with a period and a capital letter to start the next sentence. That may fill your prose with short sentences and make it choppier than you want, but give it a try. See if it helps.
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's best not to use them in fiction... in all instances there, a comma, period, em dash, or conjunction will do a much better job...

    non-fiction is another thing altogether, and they can be both useful and needed there...
     
  6. lowprofile300
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    lowprofile300 Active Member

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    I will seriously consider that. Thanks
     
  7. lowprofile300
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    lowprofile300 Active Member

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    I will seriously consider that. Thanks
     
  8. lowprofile300
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    lowprofile300 Active Member

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    Hmm..it will be difficult to get rid of them all together, since I already am more than half way through the 3500 words. I will have to do a lot of rewrites, but thanks all the same. I will replace as many as I can, and post the story when it's finished.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if you post the whole story, you'll seriously dimish it's chances of being published... which is why all here are advised to post only brief excerpts... i believe that's made clear in the rules and regs as well as in many threads...
     
  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I love semicolons, but I agree that they're hardly ever necessary. I am irritated when a sentence with two complete sentences, one that in my opinion really should have a semicolon, is written with a comma. For example, if you start with:

    Jane gloated over her new hat; it was the best one in the Mad Hat Designer's autumn line.

    I'll be irritated if you change it to:

    Jane gloated over her new hat, it was the best one in the Mad Hat Designer's autumn line.

    but have no objection to:

    Jane gloated over her new hat. It was the best one in the Mad Hat Designer's autumn line.

    or, for that matter:

    Jane gloated over her new hat, the best one in the Mad Hat Designer's autumn line.

    I don't know if the second example is actually incorrect, but it does annoy me.

    You could try taking a longish section of your writing and forcing all of those semicolons to start new sentences, to see how it reads to you.

    ChickenFreak
     
  11. lowprofile300
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    lowprofile300 Active Member

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    That's what I am in the middle of doing. Its painstaking, but my goal is to get rid of all the semicolons once and for all. In fact when the story is complete, it will be semicolon free. I will miss the little fuzzies, but i believe that I have moved on.
     
  12. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I rarely use them in fiction. It took me a while to get to that point, because they are used often in legal writing. Generally, I will change the sentence so that it works with a comma, or else use an emdash. Less frequently, I will break the sentence into two separate sentences. I do think they should be used sparingly in fiction, though I don't see any reason to insist on eliminating them entirely.
     
  13. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    IMO emdashes used too frequently are just as annoying as too many semicolons.

    There is the other irritating trick people fall into in an attempt to keep away from a semicolon, or to add in too much extra info, i.e. a relative clause:

    Jane gloated over her new hat, which was the best one in the Mad Hat Designer's autumn line.


    There are also brackets, but I know that will induce a howl of protest from the Americans on here:

    Jane gloated over her new hat (the best one in the Mad Hat Designer's autumn line).

    We still use them in the UK, in moderation. They can be used to give nice ironic or comic effect because they work like an aside. I don't think emdashes or any other punctuation replaces them for this.

    The best thing is to look into the structure of your sentences and avoid splicing your ideas together. Often two sentences can work better, you know, 'one idea, one sentence'.
     
  14. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's very much a stylistic choice. There are successful authors who use them, and successful authors who avoid them completely. That said, if the questioner is overusing them then trying to write without any at all is likely to be a good excercise.

    Noah Lukeman, in The Art of Punctuation, writes that "those who overuse [the semicolon] are [...] likely to lean towards pretentiousness", but that "writers who completely ignore [the semicolon] are likely to be beginners, or hesitant to take chances with language. They are less likely to have well-crafted prose, less likely to offer nuances of style and language." Like so many things in writing it's a balance, and the author needs to find the balance that works best for their voice and the story they're telling.
     
  15. Clumsywordsmith
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    Clumsywordsmith Active Member

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    With that quote Digitig managed to sum up perfectly my own take on the semicolon; an essential part of any writer's repertoire, they are to be used both tastefully and sparingly. I've never before heard of this idea that the semicolon is to be avoided entirely in fictional works! It all comes down to style and flow. There are times when a comma or conjunction would be more appropriate, and others where a semicolon makes the most sense. Learn to use them correctly, make a habit of noting semicolons in the works of others, and experiment with your own writing.

    Quite frankly, I wouldn't at all mind seeing a revival of the semicolon, as it has been allowed to languish -- derided by teachers and "authorities" alike, and loathed by many students. Then again, my prose and general style tends to take a great deal of inspiration from the ponderous works of the 19th and early 20th century, so it goes without saying that I'm in favour.
     
  16. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    semicolons seem to be better thought of for fiction use in the uk, than in the us... american writers have usually taken a more 'casual' approach to such things than the more 'formal' british...
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Have I been reading a whole lot of British fiction? Because brackets (well, I'd call them parentheses) don't seem the least bit odd to me. I certainly use them--in fact, hey, look! I just did.

    ChickenFreak
     
  18. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    Hey! *impressed* :)
     

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