I Hate Semicolons!

Punctuation marks are to writers what knives are to chefs. The more experienced the chef, the fewer the knives. It’s the same for fiction writers. We need periods for emphasis, commas to keep meanings clear, and dashes to allow for informative or humorous asides to the reader. We need quotation marks for dialogue, an occasional question mark, and a few apostrophes. Colons, used judiciously, tell readers to sit up straight and pay attention. But semicolons tell them it’s okay to let their minds wander because nothing much is going on except some dull episodic recitation.

For some reason, fiction writers in the 90s became besotted with semicolons, especially recent grads of MFA writing programs. It got so bad you could almost identify a fiction writer’s MFA school by the number of semicolons per short story. But as those writers matured and grew in confidence, they dropped the delusion they were creating complex ideas when they linked two compound phrases. Their stories therefore took on more power and clarity.

Since most copy-editors learned their trade in nonfiction, fiction writers sometimes have to be firm about keeping semicolons out of their work, especially light fiction done in first person. With every manuscript I send my editor, I include a note for the copy-editors requesting that no semicolons find their way into Dixie Hemingway’s sentences. First-person narratives have to be written the way real people talk, and real people don’t use semicolons in their speech. Giving Dixie semicolons would be like giving her hiccups.


3 thoughts on “I Hate Semicolons!

  1. The original rule of thumb I was given was “NO semicolons in dialogue and as few as possible everywhere else.”

    Because of that, my sensitivity to them is heightened, and they jump out at me.

  2. THANK U! As a reader I hate semi-colons. they catch my eye and make me pause to ask why? why a semi-colon here?

    As someone who enjoys writing, I hate them because word keeps telling me i need them! i refuse to use them. i have been known to break up the sentence into two different ones before I’ll use one.

  3. To tell the truth, I hate colons almost as much as semicolons. I just finished reading a novel that had so many colons in it that I began counting colons instead of paying attention to the story. One sentence actually had 3 colons in it, and none were necessary. Maybe the author used Word too. One of the reasons I use a Mac is so I can use Nisus instead of Word for writing.

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