How to use a semicolon

self aggrandizing aaron meme

 

The semicolon

This guy ;

I haven’t written anything regarding my experiences from Quora in a little while, but I came across a quote, which I simply brushed off for quite some time; it was a quote regarding the semicolon. Then, I remembered answering a question on Quora about the semicolon.

The quote—and I don’t recall who said it, or if anyone actually said it at all; sometimes, people just write their own thoughts and claim someone else said something in order to pass their quirks off as something with a far deeper meaning, but I digress—the quote was along the lines of the following: I don’t use semicolons in my writing. Semicolons are just used by people who want to let everyone know that they went to college.

Well, that’s a stupid outlook.

The question from Quora was in regards to the proper use of semicolons and had nothing to do with the quote, but as is often the case, a wild hair grows right up my anus, and I have to expound my own thoughts—love me or leave me….

Question: When does one use a semicolon?

Answer: A semicolon can be used to provide a list of items or ideas.

He went to the store and purchased the following items; beer, bread, milk, eggs, and toilet paper.

This is in lieu of the following statement: He went to the store and purchased beer, bread, milk, eggs, and toilet paper.

As you can plainly see, the information provided in both statements is exactly the same. There is no difference, pragmatically, whatsoever. In this instance, the structure of the statement depends on you, the writer, and how you wish to provide your information to an audience.

If you were to write children’s books, you’d probably use the simpler version, and refrain from the semicolon. If you were writing a term paper on the history of espionage, you’d probably like to sound more professorial, and go for the semicolon version.

There is another time to employ the semicolon, and it is used where most people comma splice. The semicolon is used to tie together two thoroughly related sentences; both sentences must be complete clauses. This is a case where a period can also be used.

He went to the store; the Best Buy on Main St. is always busy, but he needed a new laptop right away.

The idea can also be written as the following: He went to the store. The Best Buy on Main St. is always busy, but he needed a new laptop right away.

It cannot be written in the following manner: He went to the store, the Best Buy on Main St. is always busy, but he needed a new laptop right away.

Now, why would anyone want to use the semicolon in lieu of the period?

The same reason as was stated earlier; if you are writing a book for someone of grade school age, you’d certainly refrain from the semicolon, and use the period in order to create shorter, simpler sentences. If you were writing a term paper for grad school, it’d probably be best to create more complicated sentences. Why? Presumably, a grad school student needs to provide more complex information within a paragraph, yet this is all hypothetical, subjective, from the point of view of the writer/editor and intended audience, and combined with personal predilection given any number of circumstances.

Inspect the following paragraph:

The CIA as an organization buys and sells information; they often work for various governments and against various governments and often for the same employer. Moreover, the CIA is not a single faction; they are a plethora of organizations, and all of them work together under various names, so it should not come as a shock that ISIS is in fact a CIA faction. There is little doubt that such an idea will ever be presented by anyone else, and should someone provide such an insight, it will surely be disregarded immediately.

Here’s the same paragraph verbatim:

The CIA as an organization buys and sells information. They often work for various governments and against various governments and often for the same employer. Moreover, the CIA is not a single faction. They are a plethora of organizations, and all of them work together under various names, so it should not come as a shock that ISIS is in fact a CIA faction. There is little doubt that such an idea will ever be presented by anyone else, and should someone provide such an insight, it will surely be disregarded immediately.

In the second version, both semicolons were replaced by periods. Once again, the information provided is identical, but the first version “reads” smoothly, where as the second feels “choppy”.

(Choppy is not dialogue, so the period does not belong inside the quotation marks. Quotation marks are also punctuation, and the only time other items of punctuation belong within the quotation marks is during dialogue. I don’t care what anybody else tells you; just because an idea has been accepted as the common stance does not mean it is correct. There was a time when the common stance indicated the earth was the center of the solar system, and we all learned a lesson from that, right?)

What needs to be stressed is that, for the most part, a paragraph is comprised of three or more sentences. The provision of too many sentences can cause a paragraph to expound upon multiple ideas, which is incorrect; a paragraph must elucidate a single idea, no matter how complex it may be, but the more complex the idea, the more complex must be its supporting sentences, hence linking numerous sentences by way of the semicolon. You can think of this in terms of afterthoughts, which are thoroughly correlated to one another, yet may by themselves distract from the main idea.

Fortunately, the semicolon, like the Oxford comma, is one of those strange pieces of punctuation that yields to choice, to predilection. Do you want to employ a semicolon? You don’t have to. Do you want to employ the Oxford comma? You don’t have to. The choice is yours, and the choice must be predicated on two ideas: How would you like to be regarded, and who is your audience?

I dropped everything I was doing and wrote this because often I cannot stomach the hubris of writers; I have written copiously about that idiot Stephen King, and other morons like Lloyd, ad nauseam. They are so often out there, wielding their success, lording it over your heads, prattling on about the proper way of writing. I’m certainly glad they have achieved fame, success, and financial security, but more often than not, the information they present is really just their personal take, their predilection; they also always, always, forget that they have editors, and that their editors, if they’re worth a damn, change all their writers’ quirks in order to provide readers a better experience; writing is not only about stating facts. It is also about the best possibly way to convey meaning, and that’s where punctuation often comes into play; we don’t only read words, we read punctuation in order to understand what someone else wants us to think, feel, experience….

I know that it seems sensible to take their advice to heart since they achieved success with their quirks, but this is often not the actual case; editors have rewritten their clients’ books, and a lot of those quirks are omitted, yet the writers maintain their stance. Using a semicolon won’t keep you from being successful. Starting sentences with conjunctions won’t make you successful. Vomiting sentence fragment after sentence fragment won’t make you successful, so what good is their advice? The advice of writers is usually worth less than the paper on which it’s written.

Why listen to me, right? I am also an editor.

What writers should be doing instead of telling you to avoid phrases such as “for a long moment” (more idiot Stephen King nonsense) is telling you to avoid abusing words like would, could, and should. Have you ever dropped a book because you read that a character paused for a “long moment”? Of course not. In fact, look at these pictures.

this is a picture I took of one of my favorite novels, Tales of Power, by Carlos Castaneda
this is a picture I took of one of my favorite novels, Tales of Power, by Carlos Castaneda

In the eighth line, you can plainly see “for a long moment.”

(I’m quoting the author’s statement, so the period is placed correctly.)

This book, and all of his others, are all international best sellers, and Castaneda was an anthropologist from UCLA. For a long moment is not something you need to avoid, but here’s a phone screen shot of King from Twitter.

king tells you not to use for a long mement
king tells you not to use for a long moment

There’s a time and place to use the proper statements, and it if “he looked at her,” but not “for a long moment,” he then glanced at her, or peeked at her. Conversely, you may want to state: He scrutinized her, which does entail “a long moment”. Regardless, King is a self ingratiating putz who preaches avoiding thesauruses; I’ll bet his editors use them, though, putz!

I’ll bet you dropped a book because you felt the writer kept you at arm’s length, though, right? Writers should be telling you to avoid using editing software, and instead, hire an actual editor, but the truth is that they are frightened little rabbits—they are riddled with self-doubt and insecurities— and they know people like you and me are gunning for their spot as best writer in the world, and so they give you bullshit advice in the hopes of deterring you from success.

Use a semicolon if you’re writing for adults—use it correctly. Hire an editor who understands how to transform your dry account of sequential events into a story. Learn to build a fan base before publishing your first novel. Such is the advice that writers should be giving people.

If you think I’m full of it, that’s fine, but take a few minutes to read over the following few articles;

Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda

Editing One Shot by Lee Child

Structure

I guarantee you, your editing software is destroying your career before it even begins…so, too, is the fake advice of these “great” writers of our times. They’re a bunch of hacks, who joined a group of other hacks, and then started praising each other and keeping out anyone with a hint of talent. Fortunately for us, today is an indie age; we’re in an age of free information, an age where anyone can become successful if they employ all the time and effort at their disposal and all without having to cater to third-party, mainstream assholes. We’re living in an age where readers are clamoring for something new and fresh, and the old dinosaurs don’t know what new and fresh means. Readers are begging you to write what they want to read, so learn how to do it.

Be sure to also check out my editing services tab rather than relying on editing software.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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