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You know, I love semicolons! But not as much as I used to. You know what I do now? I do a search through the manuscript and look at every single semicolon and colon and dash and decide whether I want to keep it or change it. This takes HOURS and is VERY BORING, but I think it’s worth it.

Also, every now and then? You do want to break a semicolon rule. Just from time to time, you want to use both an “and” and a semicolon at the same time. It just gives the exact right “feel” for the sentence — a sort of catch-and-drag. I guess I do this about once per two books, so not very often. Just every now and then.

I’ve let copy editors talk me out of doing a ” . . . ; and . . . ” construction before, though. Then I tend to notice a great writer do exactly the same thing I wanted to do. (I’m thinking of Robin McKinley here). That makes me swear to stick to my guns and break the rule if I want to.

I do wonder whether the occasional grammar whiz is bothered by it, though. Breaking this rule means you’re betting that nearly everybody will feel the catch in the sentence without noticing what you did to cause it.

It’s the same with other rules, of course. You can use a comma splice, especially in dialogue, to create a rushed, breathless feeling. I’ve done this, lots of writers have done this, not only am I doing it here right this minute but Gilman uses this technique in her wonderful Mrs Pollifax mysteries .

But this drives my mother NUTS and more than once, if I’m reading a book after her? She has MARKED THESE AS WRONG IN THE BOOK. IN PEN. That drives ME nuts. But at least it keeps me aware that some people are very very very bothered if you break a grammatical rule and totally do not think that the “feel” of the sentence or the “breathless” voice of the pov character justifies it.

And that is useful because it makes me think twice and three times before breaking a rule.

But I am still going to do it now and then. Please don’t mark up my books in pen when I do! It was deliberate, I swear!

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