Friday, January 21, 2011

The Great Semi-colon Debate, Part Deux: Sponsored in Part by Punctuation Man

I love the semi-colon. At least, I used to.

The semi-colon and I have had a long relationship combining related ideas with seamless ease. If you're trained as a technical writer or print journalist, like me, you've used this happy wink-shaped mark in your writing with little thought. But I've come to agree with many writers that the venerable semi-colon has no place in fiction.

My final draft of my WIP is all about strengthening voice. After reading about the semi-colon debate, and learning how some writers tightened up their scenes by reducing said punctuation mark, I re-wrote some passages of my WIP, replacing semi-colons with periods and rewriting for clarity and editing thusly.

And guess, what?  It worked. The action is bolder. It flows and better yet, the words move: especially in action scenes in which I am striving for conflict and suspense.

Master of suspense author, James Scott Bell, writes on his blog, "When it comes to fiction, I think of semi-colons the way I think of eggplant: avoid at all costs."  Well, I do love me some eggplant, but I agree with Bell's premise and as Bell continues, he quotes Vonnegut. "Here is a lesson in creative writing.  First rule:  Do not use semicolons.  They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing.  All they do is show you've been to college."  Heh-heh. Harsh, but right.  Did you know, by the way, Vonnegut was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, which is close to my hometown?  Bet he would have been a Colts fan.

Punctuation Man is coming to get you, and your semi-colons.

So there you have it, or perhaps you don't if you've kicked the semi-colon to the curb. How do you feel about the semi-colon and do you use this form of punctuation in your fiction?  I, for one, will continue my "find and replace" and search and destroy all lurking semi-colons like a crazed zombie in the Walking Dead; however, I will continue to use the helpful little punctuation tag in my non-fiction writerly pursuits.


  1. *Raises hand* Former journalist, here. I love the semi-colon and I must bid it "adieu" in my fiction. Sad, really. It's a very efficient mark.

  2. It's so hard though Jeannie, such a handy tag gone missing, lol. Wait until we have to change our MS's and delete the extra space after periods; like the semi, old habits die hard.