Monday, June 14, 2010

Semicolons in Fiction, CRAFT

QUESTION: Someone told me I shouldn't use semicolons in my stories. Why?

First, a grammar reminder about semicolons (;). The three most common uses of a semicolon are

*Compound sentences when a conjunction (and, or, but) isn't used.

The wind blew through the trees; the chimes sang like angels.

*Compound sentences when a conjunctive adverb (however, therefore, nevertheless) is used.

The wind blew through the trees; however, the chimes remained silent.

*Sentences with long, joined clauses which may have commas.

The wind blew through the trees, I was told; but because the chimes had become tangled, their sounds did not echo through the forest.

As you can see from the examples, most semicolon sentence structures have a formal quality to them that is uncommon in fiction but is often found in nonfiction. In other words, it belongs in nonfiction, not fiction, particularly genre fiction with its more vernacular style.

Use the semicolon as rarely as you would an exclamation point in narrative, and only when nothing else will do for clarity.

If you find yourself using semicolons quite often, your narrative voice is probably too heavy or didactic for popular fiction.

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