1. jakeybum

    jakeybum Active Member

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    Semicolon in Written Dialogue

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by jakeybum, Jun 4, 2017.

    Is it absolutely incorrect to use a semicolon in dialogue? Is there a rule that prohibits this?

    Joe said, "Nancy went to the movies; I went to the mall."

    Thank you.
     
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  2. Pinkymcfiddle

    Pinkymcfiddle Banned

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    no, and you use it correctly here. It is more than a comma and less than a full stop; it is a separation of ideas.
     
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  3. Pinkymcfiddle

    Pinkymcfiddle Banned

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    or it can be used in lists (but more legal)
     
  4. jakeybum

    jakeybum Active Member

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    Thanks again.
     
  5. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I've heard the argument that it shouldn't be used in dialogue because we don't "speak" semicolons, but that doesn't really make sense to me - we don't "speak" any punctuation, really. I think there's definitely an inflection that reflects what a semi-colon represents. So, yes, I use them in dialogue.
     
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  6. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Doesn't it just reflect a longer pause than a comma, but not as final as a full stop in dialogue. Really its just a guide to the reader so its not that critical whether you use it or not.
     
  7. big soft moose

    big soft moose The Moderating Moose Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Although in the example here you could also use the tag to separate the two ideas

    "Nancy went to the movies" Joe said "I went to the mall"
     
  8. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    They're not very elegant; and you don't see them till it's too late; dotted; then stroked; across and down; your manuscript during that draft number fifeen; when you really; decided to punctuate the whole piece; properly: and probably add an italic emphasis or two; to really guide the idiot; reader. Wait six months and leave writing in a cloud and you find the reader doesn't require any punctuation because they want to ride long your words at pace.

    Still, I've ruined so, many.
     
  9. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    That wouldn't work for me... the tag seems like even more of a "stop" than a period would be.

    I could see it as:

    "Nancy went to the movies." There was something fierce in his gaze, a challenge of some sort, as he added, "I went to the mall."

    Or whatever the relationship is... the point of the semi-colon, to me, is to show that these two sentences are connected in a more-significant-than-usual way. Just using the tag doesn't show me that.
     
  10. thirdwind

    thirdwind Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    There's nothing wrong with using a semicolon in dialogue, but I wouldn't be surprised if an editor replaced it with a period before publication.
     
  11. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I'd stet that change for sure.
     
  12. jakeybum

    jakeybum Active Member

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    Thanks, everyone. :)
     
  13. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Just a side-note...

    It's fascinating to me the way those little marks "..." create a whole other zone of engagement for some and not for others. In this realm, I'm with @BayView. Punctuation is punctuation. Sentences are sentences. Those little quotation marks don't change a thing - for me. The only time I've heard someone speak with punctuation is on the odd occasion you see a character in a film or TV reciting into an audio note-taking device. I'm watching Hemlock Grove just now and yes, there's a fellah' who does this, and it fits pretty well with his personality, which is basically a bundle of very high-strung neuroses (Dr. Johann Pryce). Now, clearly, we do speak differently than the more methodical manner in which a 3rd person narrator narrates*, but other than the aforementioned, we never speak punctuation. A comma splice is a phenomenon of the written page, not the spoken voice.

    * I sometime do transcriptions of depositions and other recorded conversations for the federal court. They must be exact, and because of this, one becomes aware of the fact that in truth we tend to speak in a haphazard, broken, stilted manner replete with false starts, broken syntaxes, stutters, repetition, and other anomalies that make it a wonder we actually understand one another at all. But we don't really notice this because our brains smooth it out, fix the broken syntaxes and ignore the false starts. Dialogue in books is more reflective of what happens in the brain of the listener than what happens in the mouth of the speaker.
     
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  14. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Contributor Contributor

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    I guess I'm the only one who wouldn't do it? I mean, never, absolutely for all times, no.

    For me, it's just too stuffy. It's like throwing a dinner party and some guy shows up in a top hat. There's no rule against it, and if it were the 1800s, he'd be right at home, but these days everyone will keep watching him. He's too special. They're waiting for him to bust into a November Rain solo.
     
  15. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Do you use semi-colons at all?

    I don't really see them as a formal, stuffy punctuation, but if you do... would you use them if you were writing dialogue from a formal, stuffy character?
     
  16. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I don't use semi-colons in dialogue, because of what they mean to a reader. Semi-colons mean the thought isn't finished, and that there's more to follow before the thought is complete. However, I don't see that concept translating to dialogue—which is spoken out loud—via a punctuation mark.

    When writing spoken dialogue, we use commas to indicate pauses, full stops (periods) to indicate the end of a statement, an exclamation point to indicate high emotion and a question mark to indicate a query. These would all be conveyed by the speaker via tone of voice. But do we voice a semicolon to indicate a pregnant pause?

    Think about it this way. Read these two lines of dialogue aloud:
    Nancy went to the movies; I went to the mall.
    Nancy went to the movies. I went to the mall.

    Do you really SAY them differently (out loud)? If so, fine. If not, I'd just go with the full stop.

    I would prefer an action beat in between statements, as illustrated here by @BayView, to indicate a 'pregnant pause' to the reader. (The significance of Nancy going to the movies isn't clear until you also know the speaker didn't go with her.)
    However, that being said, if somebody wants to use a semicolon in dialogue, I can roll with it. I don't see any harm. I just don't use it that way myself. And yes, I do use them on occasion, in the narrative bits of my story. I think they have more impact if they are used sparingly. Not every statement has a pregnant pause in it, after all.
     
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2017
  17. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Contributor Contributor

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    Yes, I do. Not a lot, maybe one per thousand words? I went through a phase where I overused them, I think. The one story I posted here (which no apparently liked, oh well) used 5 per 4500 words. That's about normal for me these days. I've toned down the em dashes and italics too. Nothing wrong with them. I just save them for special occasions. Date night, not casual meetings.

    For me, logically, I don't see any reason to be overly precise with punctuation in the dialog. I'm already wrecking the spelling/grammar/style in there whenever I need to, so it feels very prim trying to get the punctuation just exactly so, and very out of place with everything else I do.

    So, I like them in the main text, when they're done right. But in the dialog . . . for me, never. This is how they look:
    "A confession must be made; penance shall follow."
    "A confession must be made THIS AUTHOR REALLY KNOWS HOW TO USE SEMICOLONS penance shall follow."

    But that's just me. Luckily we all have free reign. I wish life were like that more often.
     
  18. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    So would you replace the confession/penance semicolon with a period, or a dash, or...?
     
  19. Seven Crowns

    Seven Crowns Contributor Contributor

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    A period, probably. And I'm not below a comma splice. It's funny where you can get away with them. I wish I had the link to the article I was reading the other day. It was these grammarians discussing legal comma splices in place of semicolons. (Had nothing to do with dialog though.)
     
  20. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin The game sour like a pickle be.... Contributor

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    Writing is hard enough without fretting about punctuation. I got 99 problems but a semicolon ain't one.
     
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