Sunday, June 20, 2010

Stupid rules! *fusses like a toddler, or a writer denied semicolons*

"Use semicolons sparingly, and never in fiction." (The Everything Guide to Writing Nonfiction, Richard D. Bank)

Do you ever read a writing rule that makes you wish there was someone there to pout at? Or possibly toss their own reference book at them?

I love my semicolons. I already had a writing rule I thought was breaking, sometimes cleverly and sometimes recklessly, by using parentheses in my fiction writing. For instance, this section of Shards of Glass:
April was the kind of teenager who makes adults wish they could go back and try high school over again. She was (in order of ascending importance) intelligent, funny, athletic, beautiful and popular.

I've debated writing that last sentence differently a million times, and decided to let it stand as part of my voice until told otherwise (I'd love to hear your opinions on my parantheses abuses).

But this business of semicolons being a dealbreaker in fiction has never crossed my mind before. So apparently now I'm breaking rules without even knowing they exist, which is not nearly as rebellious and fun as breaking them knowledgably.

Examples of semicolon use, from my current WIP:
Her vision had narrowed suddenly, a soft hum rising in her ears that blocked all other sounds; she felt muffled, as if her eardrums had suddenly closed, and she put her hands up to her ears.  

Well, that whole paragraph could probably stand some reconsideration. Or:
She was in the midst of dumping out coffee grounds when a flash of red coat caught her eye; she looked up, saw Willow hesitate in the doorway and then duck back out.

Sigh. Maybe I could stand to obliterate all my semicolons, after all. I think I'll try re-writing those sentences and see how they sound best. If that's what flows, I'm going all James Dean on those parentheses and semicolons, but I'll let them go if I must. Post to come on my determination. Poop.

Any writing rules that make you feel a bit fussy? Or that you prefer to ignore entirely?


Kathryn said...

I LOVE semicolons!!! I take them out of fiction though because I find that a lot of readers (myself included sometimes) get distracted from the story by punctuation that they might not understand too well ("What the, what is THAT thing?? What does that MEAN??").

Ellipses are my faves though. I wrote a blog post about them last week: They just rock in so many ways! :D

Old Kitty said...

LOL! I think using full stops instead of semi colons works with your examples just fine in my very humble opinion!.

I used to cheat and use "-" instead of ;! Oh but I am very partial to my use of parentheses.

Take care

Donna Hole said...

Lately I feel like the only rules I follow are on POV.

Dang, just let an editor bent on publishing your work tell you if parenthesis is ok, or elipses, or semi colons. Those type mechanical errors aren't going to make or break a book deal.


Summer said...

I semicolon whenever the hell I feel like it. I also ellipse(e?) and em-dash like mad.

Sophia said...

The heck with that! I don't use semicolons frequently or unconsciously but I *do* use them with one of my POV characters. She talks in long sentences with pauses where normal people would stop between independent clauses; unless people want me to bring back the comma splice they're just gonna have to deal with the occasional semicolon.
- Sophia.

Guinevere said...

Oh, Kathryn, I also love ellipses. I could write an ode to ellipses. Those, though, I usually banish from my fiction writing except in dialogue. In my personal writing, though (as seen in my blogs, I'm sure) I am a lover of the ellipse.

Loved your post about ellipses, by the way! You made a great point about Hemingway.

Guinevere said...

Old Kitty, I think you're right about the full stops! And I've been dashing a lot in my novel as well - but that's a habit I'm trying to break. Also.

of course, if I break all my bad habits, will I have a voice left? Quandry! Quandry!

Guinevere said...

Donna, that's so true - the parentheses thing especially, I've shelved for the future. If I get an agent and s/he wants them gone - booya, they're gone. lol.

Guinevere said...

Summer, you're a rebel too! Very James Dean. :)

Sophia, I think the semicolon is definitely better than a comma splice; just do what feels right to you. See? Semicolon. Still love them. :p

Guinevere said...

By the way, I have no idea why the current James Dean obsession. Confession: I have never even seen Rebel without a Cause.

But he was really hot, back in the day, so maybe that's why. :p

Matthew Rush said...

Guinevere, I saw your comment on my blog and would be glad to have you as a guest but I don't know how to reach you. My email is on my blogger profile.

prashant said...

Those type mechanical errors aren't going to make or break a book deal.
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Talli Roland said...

Yay for semi-colons! They're my favourite; I just love those little guys. But I must admit I do think they're used sparingly.

Lola Sharp said...

Semicolons can be used in fiction, sparingly. It's a style choice. One not to be abused. But never use them inside quotation marks--> No semicolons in dialogue, please.

Emily Ann Benedict said...

Ack! I hate a writing rules. For me, the bug is exclamation points!..!! I don't know why editors have a thing against them. :P
But then, I've found a lot of "rules" people put out there, aren't always kept. I've read books by major authors chock full of broken rules.

楊韋以 said...


Guinevere said...

Matthew, thanks for getting in touch with me! I'll send you an email.

True, Prashant.

Guinevere said...

Talli, I think I need to work on the "sparingly" part; but I think the most important part is realizing you have a problem with a particular piece of punctuation... :p

Guinevere said...

Hmm, Lola, that's interesting. Why the no dialogue rule? I don't think I do that anyway, my semi-colons are in paragraphs of description or action, but I'm curious.

Guinevere said...

Emily, I've had the anti-exclamation point thing drilled into my since, like fourth or fifth grade writing classes (Shortly after we learned punctuation marks, it feels like - "This is an exclamation point. You won't need it much.").

But they definitely have their place. Sometimes, only an exclamation point will do!

Lynn Colt said...

Ack I use semicolons all the time! In fact I overuse them, and have to edit a lot of them out during rewrites. But some stay--I think it's a matter of keeping the sentence structure varied so that they don't all sound the same. Rules, schmules.

I think parentheses are fine, so long as they're used correctly, and as part of a YA voice, I think it can be great :)