High Hill Writing Tips

Semicolons should be used rarely, if at all.

The editors at High Hill find this one of their biggest pet peeves. We've noticed that writers, especially new writers, over-use semi-colons in their fiction which often breaks up the prose, making it seem staccato and jarring. There is definitely a place for a semi-colon or two. Think of it as a super comma and use it to highlight a sentence using two independent, yet related clauses. Here is a simple example.
The Turners visited the West on their vacation; the Fishers spent their time in the South.

And although this is correct, this sentence could very easily be changed to incorporate a comma and conjunction. Here is that example.
The Turners visited the West on their vacation, and the Fishers spent their time in the South.

Either way would be correct. But in this particular case, it would be fine to show off a little and throw a semi-colon in there, it does not stop the reader, or make the sentence seem jarring.

Flex your writing muscles if you must. But flex them sparingly. We don't mind the limited use of semi-colons, but we truly do cringe when we see them liberally thrown into a text by a writer who obviously doesn't know how to use them. Example.

John walked a lot years ago; now he doesn't. Although he knows it's good for him; he has given up the practice. These are all related, yet independent clauses. But using them like this makes it jarring to read. In the first sentence a comma and a conjunction would work well and make it less jarring. In the second sentence, a simple comma will divide the clauses and make it read smooth as silk.

A good rule of thumb is that if you're not sure if the brave little semi-colon works in the sentence you're creating, then leave it on the cutting room floor. Don't use it unless it is absolutely necessary, or can break up a dense paragraph of prose without being obtrusive. There is nothing worse to an editor than to stumble over misplaced semi-colons page after page.

Grab a grammar book, Strunk and White maybe, or Write Right, it doesn't matter, there are hundreds of good reference books out there. Keep a shelf of them next to your computer, or typewriter, or yellow legal pad. Keep them at hand when you write and check them often. Learn the craft and have fun.

If you have a question you'd like answered in this column, write to highhillpress@gmail.com  and ask away.

No comments:

Post a Comment