Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Punctuation is your friend!

A post from Janet Reid: Punctuation is your friend!

Recently, a writer bemoaned “agents hate semicolons”on Twitter. …

The idea that anyone who wrangles words would hate any one member of the punctuation platoon is perplexing to me. …

Deft use of punctuation can give your work power and punch and panache.

To rob yourself of any piece of punctuation is idiotic.

If an agent says s/he hates semi-colons, my guess is s/he’s seen them abused too often, but that’s like blaming the victim for the crime.

I don’t hate ellipses even though some writers fling them about with abandon; as if they’d bought a barrel, suspended it over their computer and dripped them down on the manuscript like faux freckles.

Generally I frown on that … but not always. 

I have, myself, personally, met English teachers who do not permit their students to use semicolons.

I’m with Janet Reid. To rob yourself of any piece of punctuation is idiotic. I’ll go further: to rob your students of any piece of punctuation is malpractice.

I’m guessing you’ve probably noticed I specifically do not hate semicolons. Or ellipses. I bet you didn’t know that after finishing a manuscript, I generally spend about three hours “finding” semicolons and ellipses, and taking out about a third of them. Obviously I leave a lot in, so that gives you an idea of how many I have to start with.

But if anybody tells me I’m overusing semicolons, I will just point them to Jane Austen and let them argue with her. NO ONE today uses as many semicolons as great writers used in that era.

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2 Comments Punctuation is your friend!

  1. Rachel

    “Take out semicolons” strikes me as shorthand for “I personally hate semicolons;” ie, an expression of artistic taste. If I joined a writer’s group — unlikely, as I hardly ever join any group of any kind — and someone said this, I would either explain that my artistic taste differs or simply nod politely and ignore the advice, whichever seemed more practical.

    But when a student tells me, “My teacher said never to use semicolons,” I do say, “Your teacher apparently doesn’t believe students can learn to use semicolons correctly, which is kiiiiiind of insulting. Here is how you use semicolons. Now go use them as you wish, though it would not be tactically sensible to use them in papers for your teacher.”

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