Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation
Florida Man and the semicolon is too sexy for its own good
Okay, recently I’ve been working on a lot of people’s stories that are fantastic except for one thing—one easily fixable thing—they have semicolons everywhere.
The semicolon is that little bit of punctuation that looks like there’s a comma on the bottom and a period topping it. And judging from people’s use of it? It’s an addictive, sexy beast.
Most people think they understand the semicolon. It’s a period topping a comma, right? You use it to do something or um … yeah …?
Here’s the thing, a semicolon is a divider. It’s like a comma and a period that way, but it’s not. It creates a different length of the pause for the reader between the words that it divides.
Yes! There are different levels of pause.
Here check it out. We’ll do it with three sentences.
The first is a comma, but it will be a minimal pause.
Shaun wanted to talk about naughty things, but Carrie was not going to let him do that today.
Here is that same sentiment but with a medium-weight pause.
Shaun wanted to talk about naughty things; Carrie was not going to let him do that today.
Here is the same sentiment with the pause heavyweight fighter, the period.
Shaun wanted to talk about naughty things. Carrie was not going to let him do that today.
Your punctuation choice controls the pacing of your paragraph and sentence and if you put 18 of them in one paragraph? You’re going to slow down the pace of your story and also make readers get crinkly noses and hate you.
So how do you use semicolons?
There are three major ways to use this sexy beast.
One. To connect a certain kind of thing.
Semicolons connect two independent clauses. You know something is an independent clause if it can stand alone as it’s very own sentence.
It’s like using the conjunction and between two independent clauses to show they are really related.
Shaun is wearing big boy pants; he has been for forty-five years.
Two. To separate things in a list (sometimes).
If you’ve got a weird list with lots of internal punctuation, then you can start that list off with a semicolon. Here’s an example.
My wife had a list of things that she wanted me to accomplish that day and it included taking out the trash; going into the basement to look at the copper pipes which, by the way, are boring to look at and are not linking; and singing—I’m a horrible singer, by the way—a whole mess of show tunes and not the ones from Hamilton for some reason.
Three. Conjunctive adjective moments
These are tricky beasts, but mostly happen with these words when they join two independent clauses.
The words are:
Here’s a quick example.
Shaun had been told that he should definitely not fart in the bed at night; however, Shaun decided that this household rule was absolutely unfair.
WRITING TIP OF THE POD
So there you go. Don’t put semicolons everywhere because that’s a flag to agents, editors or readers. Use them when you need to because they can really help for clarity in lists, but remember too much of a good thing is a bad thing in writing.
DOG TIP FOR LIFE
Embrace the semicolon. You can change direction in your life, lean into the pause, but not into the end.
In our random thoughts section at the beginning of the podcast, we talk about the people in South Carolina filming their procreation acts everywhere and wonder why there is no Maine Man when there are so many Florida Men.
The music we’ve clipped and shortened in this podcast is awesome and is made available through the Creative Commons License. Here’s a link to that and the artist’s website. Who is this artist and what is this song? It’s “Summer Spliff” by Broke For Free.
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Brought to you by Carrie Jones and Shaun Farrar of Dogs Are Smarter Than People: Writing Life, Marriage and Motivation