Pariah of Punctuation

The seventh meeting of my manuscript writing class met on Tuesday.  I found out that semi-colons are frowned upon in fiction writing.  Oops.  That’s too bad; I happen to like semi-colons in certain instances.  The instructor played a YouTube video clip of Kurt Vonnegut expressing his opinion of semi-colons.  Here is the quote:

Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college. 

Harsh, right?  I went to college and I’m proud of my degree, but I suspect that Mr. Vonnegut’s college reference wasn’t meant to be complimentary.  (You can’t get anything past me.)

Until Tuesday, I had no idea that semi-colons were the pariahs of punctuation in fiction writing.  After this wisdom was shared with me, I found myself casually looking over the rough draft of the story that I was to turn in at the end of class.  Four semi-colons.  Ouch.

Last night, I did a quick search of my novel manuscript and found the horrifying truth:  306 semi-colons scattered over the 385 pages.  I even had one in my very first sentence (gasp!)  To think, if I collected 79 more semi-colons, each page would have one of its own.

Okay, I can’t believe I never noticed this before because it’s so obvious:  I have advanced ESCUD (Excessive Semi-Colon Use Disorder).  Now that you know my terrible secret, I hope you don’t think less of me.  (And I hope you don’t think less of me because your opinion was already so low it couldn’t possibly get worse.) 

Yes, I admit that I am a fiction newbie and I have been a safe-haven for persecuted semi-colons everywhere.  They were not welcome in the fiction world, so I opened my manuscript and gave them a place to prosper.  But I had no idea of the dangers of ESCUD. 

compliments of son's jelly beans

As part of my recovery, and in light of my new-found knowledge about how detestable semi-colons are, I’m entering intense therapy, which requires me to exile semi-colons from my manuscript at once.  I do feel a little guilty, but I have to build a reputation as a serious author.  I know it’s selfish of me to sacrifice those poor, mistreated semi-colons for the sake of my dream.  But, what can I say?  Fiction is a tough world.

<Sigh>  Oh, all right.  I’ve got room for just one of you.  See there; isn’t that cozy?

Don’t judge me; recovery is a process 😉

Now you know my latest writing struggle.  What’s your biggest writing challenge at the moment?

(If I’m the only one having issues, I’ll drown my inadequacies in dark chocolate.)

29 thoughts on “Pariah of Punctuation

  1. darksculptures October 7, 2010 / 3:29 AM

    What a fun and informative post!

    I had heard tale of the semicolon falling out of grace with writers in general, but I didn’t know it was a fiction NO-NO! Thanks for the clarification. I don’t think I use them that often in my novels, but I know I use them in my creative essays.

    My biggest problem at the moment is writing. I’ve been distracted by planning the novel and the blog. My short stories and my poems have paid the price. They receive little to no attention at the moment. Thank you for making me think about that. I’m going to unplug from the internet and give them my undivided attention for the next several hours.

    • jannatwrites October 7, 2010 / 9:01 PM

      Thanks, DS! I hope that I can wean myself off of the semi-colons…

      You’ve got a lot of different writing projects, so I imagine it is difficult to keep all of them going. Good luck on going ‘unplugged’ 🙂

  2. 2blu2btru October 7, 2010 / 6:24 AM

    Hmm…I was under the impression that exclamation points were the punctuation pariah; apparently all punctuation is under attack! I was told people (teachers & literary folks) didn’t like them because most people don’t know how to use them.

    My biggest writing challenge at the moment is that I decided to do this NaNoWriMo in November, and since I have to start w/ a new story on the first, I have to come up with something worth 50,000 words of fiction. It also has to be able to be put on paper in thirty dayss. And I have to make time to write it. Yeah

    • jannatwrites October 7, 2010 / 9:03 PM

      Now that you mention it, I do think I heard that exclamation points should be used sparingly. Perhaps semi-colons have company in the outcast crowd?

      I read someone else’s blog that is doing the NaNoWriMo challenge. Sounds intense…good luck to you 🙂

  3. 2blu2btru October 7, 2010 / 6:26 AM

    P.S. I believe writing rules are made to be broken! Then again, I haven’t been published in years, so what do I know, lol.

    • jannatwrites October 7, 2010 / 9:03 PM

      It’s just a matter of figuring out which rules to break and when for a killer effect!

  4. Barb October 7, 2010 / 6:52 AM

    Janna, I’m guilty of comma splice. Which means I have to re-read everything and hunt them down… if I can find them! 😉 I’ll have to ask my beta-readers to point them out to me… hopefully from now on I won’t use them anymore – I discovered this sin last summer, so anything written before then might have some…

    • jannatwrites October 7, 2010 / 9:07 PM

      I actually had to Google ‘comma splice.’ I’m fairly certain I don’t have an issue with that one…yet (whew!)

      It is a relief that I’m not the only one that struggles with mechanics. You all have saved me from a weekend full of eating dark chocolate. Well, I might have a taste anyway because it’s yummy 🙂

  5. alijayd October 8, 2010 / 6:25 AM

    Well, now, I have never used a semi colon but only because I have no idea of their correct usage. Perhaps there isn’t a correct way to use them. Hence the advice to ignore them all together.

    As for me? I wonder whether I use too many commas. This may be an indication that my sentences are too long. Sometimes, in place of a comma and indeed a semi colon we should put a full stop.

    By the way harking back to your post about commas. When I was at school,here in the UK, during the seventies you never put a comma before a preposition.

    • jannatwrites October 8, 2010 / 8:01 PM

      Ah, commas. They are so easy to use and fit almost anywhere. I don’t think I’ll ever get the punctuation thing down perfectly, but I’ll keep working at it.

      Good luck on the comma control!

  6. Cities of the Mind October 8, 2010 / 8:43 AM

    But I love semicolons! They allow punctuation to reflect the transitive nature of thought so easily; especially compared to other forms of punctuation. I mean, when do our thoughts and feelings come in perfectly formed single-subject single-verb packets terminating in a full stop, or a neatly ordered list of subject clauses following a logical frame work of and, or, but, or nor?

    In response to Mr. Vonnegut I say: A writer chooses; a slave obeys.

    • jannatwrites October 8, 2010 / 8:06 PM

      I know! Aren’t semi-colons great?! I went through my last short story and eliminated most of the semi-colons, but there were a few instances where I thought it worked better with them there.

      I like your last statement 🙂 I don’t think his opinion is the law, but I like to keep the “rules” in mind (so I can feel like a rebel when I break them, I guess.)

  7. nrhatch October 8, 2010 / 8:50 PM

    Excellent post.

    ESCUD . . . sure to be on the next list of psychological ailments. 😉

    • jannatwrites October 8, 2010 / 11:30 PM

      Thanks, Nancy! I always wondered if I might have some previously undiscovered disorder…now I know!

  8. jpcabit October 9, 2010 / 2:50 PM

    I have ADOTED—Aggravated Disorder Of The Em-Dash. I use them all the time. I also have a very strong case of HODOTE…which is Hyper Obsessive Disorder Of The Ellipse. I love these punctuation marks. They are so great—I use them all the time! When I can at least…

    And I want to tell you to forget what whoever-it-was said.

    In fiction, you are the queen!!! Go ahead and use a moderate amount of semicolons.

    Or you can take his advice. Whichever. I’m not your editor. 😀

    • jannatwrites October 9, 2010 / 3:57 PM

      I haven’t heard from you in a while. I hope you’re doing well!

      ADOTED – I love that! And I think I might have that too – espcially since I’m trying to wean myself off of semi-colons. I very well could have HODOTE, too…I don’t know yet. At any rate, these disorders should be taken seriously.

      I only wish I were queen of fiction…great thought though – thanks! (Check that out, I used the em-dash and ellipse in the same sentence.) I think my goal will be moderation, since I still believe the period and comma don’t have to rule the manuscript.

      • jpcabit October 10, 2010 / 5:53 AM

        I’m doing great! Haven’t gotten around to visit my old blogging buddies much lately, though.

        You used an em dash and an ellipse in the same sentence, wow! But I can put them right next to each other—…

        • jannatwrites October 10, 2010 / 11:46 AM

          Well, that’s the story of my life….I do something good and someone comes along and does it even better.

          You win 🙂

      • jpcabit October 11, 2010 / 6:21 PM

        Well; I see someone else is being bested—I’m not the only one then…

        Lol 😀

  9. Rissa Watkins October 12, 2010 / 11:07 PM

    You know, I’ve read that whenever you use a semi-colon in your book a cookie is stolen from a child somewhere or a puppies is kicked or some such evil nonsense.

    But, have you read Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere? I think he has more semi-colons in his first chapter than I do in my whole book. And if Neil is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

    I think as with anything, except chocolate, moderation is key.

    • jannatwrites October 13, 2010 / 9:17 PM

      I laughed through your whole reply. If puppies were kicked, I’d definitely have more motivation to drop the semi-colons…if a cookie was stolen from a child, I’d be okay with that – they get too much sugar anyway (ha, ha).

      I agree that chocolate shouldn’t be held to the moderation rules 🙂

  10. amanda October 22, 2010 / 3:23 PM

    Tranny hermaphrodites, huh? That makes me want to use them even more! I love all forms of pausing punctuation, and no amount of bullying will get me to stop. (Love your writing style, BTW.)

    • jannatwrites October 22, 2010 / 8:31 PM

      Glad you stopped by, Amanda…and thanks for the compliment on my writing 🙂

      Way to take a stand! I’ve made a conscious effort to attempt complete semi-colon removal in my work; though I have been unsuccessful. I’ll go for moderation (it works for alcohol and junk food – why not semi-colons?)

  11. crumbl January 16, 2011 / 6:49 AM

    I don’t agree with Mr. Vonnegut that semicolons are demon spawn that should be banned to the nether regions of Hades; however, 306 in 385 pages might be overkill. My “weakness” is the ellipsis … I just can’t seem to help myself. I do try to restrict their usage to my more casual writing, not always with success.

    I like your acronym, Janna. Cute. My contributions are EGS and FBS, one of which naturally follows the other … (see, those ellipses just creep in when I’m not looking!) Empty Glass Syndrome is a chronic problem around here, and of course, solving that problem ultimately leads to Full Bladder Syndrome.

    • jannatwrites January 16, 2011 / 11:59 PM

      Ah, the ellipsis. If I were to cheat on semi-colons, it would have to be with the ellipsis…I like them also 🙂

      Thanks for your contributions to the acronym list. We’ll keep that tally running.

      I’m glad you stopped by and added your thoughts!

  12. ZinalBhadra July 2, 2013 / 7:31 PM

    haha, loved this post. I love semi colons too. 🙂 Glad to visit this blog

  13. almostvvriter April 18, 2014 / 3:01 AM

    I may, possibly, share your excessive almost pathological use of the semi-colons. (Pfft… I’m not in denial…)
    Like someone above stated, the semi-colon offers a more stream-like structure; I don’t know about you, but I lack the articulation to always write fully developed and structured sentences. And those kind of sentences get boring, too.

    Are you aware of adverbs being the grammatical pariah? Adverbs cop a lot of crap. As Stephen King has said, “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Ever since I read an article about them, I have made a conscious effort to moderate my use of them.

    Whaddya think about that?

    • jannatwrites April 18, 2014 / 9:12 AM

      Whoo-hoo – here’s to semi-colons 🙂 I still like them, and when I use them, I consciously think whether or not I really want to. I guess that’s all that can be taken from rules and opinions – a conscious decision being made.

      I have heard that about adverbs, and do notice them more in reading. I try to limit my use of them, and think I do pretty well, but I also have a problem of seeing the glaring mistakes in my writing, so it’s quite possible I could be kidding myself! I’ve read about adverb use and I do see the point that often there is a better verb that could be used rather than taking the easy verb/adverb route (like tip-toed, rather than stepped quietly.)

      Thanks for joining in this topic, Almostwriter! I do love it when ‘old’ posts spark new discussions 🙂

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