1. eden baylee
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    eden baylee Member

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    who uses the semi colon in dialogue?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by eden baylee, Oct 18, 2010.

    Though I know it is grammatically correct, I find the semi very formal within fictional dialogue.

    I wonder if anyone uses em-dashes to replace them, or do you just reword your dialogue altogether to eliminate the s-c?

    An example of a couple of sentences.

    “Trust me,” she said, amused he wasn’t taking her word for it. “I’m right; the song is by the Beatles.”

    “You are resourceful; I’ll give you that. How did you get in the building?”

    All opinions appreciated.
     
  2. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    In both examples I would give a full stop.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    In dialogue or not, the semicolon is a wishy-washy compromise between a period and a comma with a conjunction. You are nearly always better off with a full stop.

    If you're really in love with the little buggers, use them on rare occasions to join two closely related independent clauses outside of dialogue. But in reality, you are generally better off pretending they don't exist.
     
  4. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The semicolon does look rather formal in dialogue. You can actually use that, though, if you have a character whose speech is more formal than most - a lawyer in a courtroom, or a professor of literature, an ambassador, a politician. The semicolon would help distinguish that character's speech from that of a taxi driver or police officer.

    I disagree with Cog on this. If a semicolon is "a wishy-washy compromise between a period and a comma with a conjunction" then orange is a wishy-washy compromise between red and yellow.
     
  5. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I tend to correct a lot of semicolons into some pieces where people phrase things pretty badly and cram a lot of sentences together - I always say, like, grammatically that should be a semicolon and there is no way around it in many instances, but, really, should you be writing 20 sentences in a chapter that are crammed so badly together they need one? Kinda put me off them myself. :p I use a lot of dashes because I think, type and read fast, so I think in dashes more than semi colons. But I will use them, in dialogue or out, when, grammatically, they are called for.
     
  6. eden baylee
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    eden baylee Member

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    Hi Minstrel, thanks for your response. I don't have an issue with the semi-colon—it has its purpose. I just prefer not to include it in my dialogue as I feel it slows it down.

    Appreciate your answer.

    eb
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    I don't use semicolons in dialogue because a period or a comma does a much better job at conveying the pauses. In the narrative, however, there's nothing wrong with using a semicolon, though be warned that some editors may not like this.
     
  8. micki
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    micki New Member

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    eden, I tend to use them but I found this saying which amused me. Don't take it to heart.

    "Don't use semicolons. They stand for absolutely nothing. They are transvestite hermaphrodites. They are just a way of showing off. To show that you have been to college." ~Kurt Vonnegut
     
  9. eden baylee
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    eden baylee Member

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    Micki, believe it or not, I have heard that Vonnegut never used the semi-colon. It's quite funny how passionate people can be over a seemingly, innocuous punctuation mark!:)
     
  10. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Vonnegut is my favourite novelist. He also says someplace that if a sentence neither pushes the plot along nor exposes character you should strike it out. Think about that. Follow that advice - to the letter - and you lose a lot of literary beauty and a lot of Vonnegut. That's to stay, his advice, on these matters, stinks.

    I so love semi-colons I actually use them in speech - in everyday conversation.
    I indicate the deployment of a semi-colon to my listeners by raising an eyebrow.:cool:
     
  11. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I must have a face to face conversation with you. :p
     
  12. eden baylee
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    eden baylee Member

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    Art, I must say—your comment is the best laugh I've had all day! Who said that semi-colons had no use; they're bloody hilarious!
    I just wish I had a firmer grasp on their usage vs. the em-dash. It's one of those things where I feel like I'm in a fog … to use or not to use the semi, em-dash, ellipses …
     
  13. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    An idea might be to see how others use them. Most Victorian novelists use a lot of semi-colons (but not too many em-dashes). Hardy, perhaps unusually, uses ; and - and even ... . Pay close attention and Bob's your uncle.:)
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Stick with contemporary writers. Standards do change. Even so, be aware that not every author follows best practices. Very well known writers can pretty much do as they please, but new writers don't have that luxury.

    New writers are competing against others who do follow best practices, and the competition is fierce for the few publishing contracts granted.
     
  15. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I _love_ semicolons, but I wouldn't use them in those two sentences, and I doubt that I'd use them very often in normal dialogue. Barring speeches or perhaps the occasional person who speaks as if they're giving a speech, I think that phrasing complex enough to require a semicolon would likely be too complex to sound realistic, if presented as spoken words.

    (And I wouldn't use semicolons in anything that I wanted to be published, at least in the United States, but I'd still be annoyed at the need to avoid them.)
     
  16. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    If anything, I use semi-colons less in narrative than I do in dialogue. I think it's because when people speak, they aren't that focused on sentence structure, and they aren't always certain whether they are ending a sentence or just pausing for breath.

    What brings this to mind is some research I've been doing lately in which I've been reading remarks made by certain congressmen into the Congressional Record. Some of these guys have forgotten anything they may have once learned about public speaking, and you can find yourself entangled in elipses and dangling participles so thick you need a machete to hack your way out.

    So, I use semi-colons in dialogue to make the speech seem more natural.
     
  17. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    You cannot hear a semicolon. Therefore there is no good reason for using a semicolon in dialogue, unless you are quoting communication over a text medium.
     
  18. nickbedford
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    nickbedford Member

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    I wouldn't use semicolons in these instances anyway. It's not really the correct place to use them.

     
  19. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    You can't hear a comma or a full stop either. You infer they're there because the speaker pauses or begins a new sentence. Those same pauses could just as easily be a colon or a semi-colon, an m-dash, an ellipsis, they may indicate that the speaker is speaking in parentheses, etc, etc, etc.

    Semi-colons and colons are your friends, you just don't know it yet.
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    They are rarely needed or appropriate in fiction. I know you disagree, but I stand by it. More important, many submissions editors feel the same way.
     
  21. art
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    art Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some grim intelligence for you, Cogito: modern writers use semi-colons too.:eek:
    Indeed, standards are apt to slip. If a publisher rejects a work for its use of semi-colons, that is an argument for avoiding the publisher, not for avoiding the semi-colon.
     
  22. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    No manuscript has ever been rejected because it uses too few semicolons. The converse is not true.

    Do as you will, but overuse of semicolons is a common writing flaw.
     
  23. eden baylee
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    eden baylee Member

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    Wow! For my first post on what I thought would be a harmless topic—the semicolon, I'm quite surprised with the passions that have since ensued.

    I like the discussion, though and thought to share the history behind the question.

    I submitted my manuscript for copy-editing sans semicolons. When I received it back, the editor had inserted many of them, within the narrative and within the dialogue. I write erotic fiction, and though I don't mind the semi, I have rarely seen it in dialogue for this genre, and it basically pulled me out of my own story. Given that, I have rewritten the dialogue to exclude it because I find it distracting. My feeling is dialogue should sound natural in the reader's head, and the discussion here has only given me an indication of what a divisive topic the semicolon can be.

    After rereading the thread, I have come to some conclusions for my own writing.

    1) Certain publishers do use it, and others don't. It may be genre related.
    2) I have removed the semicolon from dialogue and replaced with beats (I love the beats, but don't want to overuse)
    3) I will keep semicolons to a minimum within the narrative, or reword sentences to use periods and commas instead.

    I appreciate all the wisdom and thoughts from everyone who submitted. eb
     
  24. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I am in the habit of using them, because they are used a lot in the law (and in patents). I generally go back and weed them out. I don't think I used them in dialogue, though.
     
  25. IVIilitarus
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    IVIilitarus Member

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    I never use semi-colons in dialogue. Fullstops and commas are my friend. Semi-colons crop up everywhere else, though.
     

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