On the Glory of the Semicolon

John Scalzi wrote this little ditty about semicolons and I was laughing to myself reading it because I too love a good semicolon. One of my college writing professors wrote a margin note on one of my pieces that said, “What is a semicolon?” I actually had to look it up and when I did I was amazed by this simple bit of punctuation that I had totally forgotten that could prevent both run on sentences (kind of like this one) and sentence fragments at the same time. It made sense and it worked.

Now, my writing tends to be complex in my use of language. It’s not intentional or contrived; it happens to just be the way that things rattle around in my head. (See? That last one came out as two sentences, and might even work that way but possibly pops better with a semicolon) I tend to take a lot of grammatical liberty and sometimes a good semicolon saves the day.

Of course there is the other problem that occurs with this. Scalzi makes a great point about pacing and how the prose and dialogue have to fit what you are trying to do. I tend to take the long way around when I write. I also do this when I speak from time to time. (yes, it has been said that I talk a bit much. Just a bit.) The problem with that is you lose people. They get lost reading that ridiculous sentence or listening to whatever circuitous point you are striving to make. Writing, like many other things, often gets better as it becomes more simple. I think of sculpting where you start with a huge block of stone and you whittle it down to something beautiful. Writing is like that. It’s fine when it’s broad and somewhat obtuse. It can work that way.  However, it is much better when it’s concise and the language does not get in the way; and semicolons help with that; sometimes.


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