One of the features of reading through slush is to be faced with writers’ blatant disregard for punctuation. Really, dudes, want to make a good impression? Learn to punctuate properly, with special attention to dialogue, and special attention to semicolons. I don’t know. What is it with semicolons that makes writers fall in love with them, load them into a blunderbuss and fire them at random at their manuscripts? Does it make them feel learned? Do they think readers will sit up and take notice and think: aha! This writer uses the nebulous punctuation device that is the semicolon, and that neither of us understands, and thus writer must be good? As I said, I don’t know, but the poor semicolon is much-abused, sometimes to the point of ridiculousness.
So here are two simple truths about semicolons, and they are all you need to know about them:
The best and most fail-safe way to use a semicolon is…
… not at all.
That’s right. Written language doesn’t need semicolons. At all. So if you’re unsure of their use, just don’t use them. Simple. And, by the way, semicolon-peppered manuscripts are very -uhm – amateurish anyway, so just ease off on them, right? No more than 2 per chapter/story is probably a good guideline.
… if you are determined to have semicolons, here’s another easy rule: a semicolon is interchangeable with a full stop, and NOT with a comma. Also easy to remember. If, however, you are of the variety unsure about the placement of full stops vs commas, then, well, maybe you just need to brush up on punctuation in general, and it’s probably best to forget about the semicolon altogether. You don’t need it, and if your punctuation skills are not the best, chances are that the humble semicolon will just get you into a whole lot of unnecessary trouble.