I’ve been reading a long list of new books by authors who have asked for reviews. I think every book so far has had tons of colons and semi-colons. It wouldn’t be quite so bad if anyone knew how to use them. I find sentences with comas and semi-colons. Or semi-colons instead of a period. Or colons between two statements that are barely related to each other.
I’m of the school that says colons and semi-colons should be left for scientific papers and instruction manuals. Okay, I know everyone is free to use their own judgment when it comes to their own writing. But really…if you’re going to use punctuation, could you at least learn how to do it correctly?
I will be judging entries in the Daphne writing contest soon. I hope the entrants aren’t in love with colons and semi-colons. Or, at least, if they use them, they know how to do it correctly. I never mark down an entry for doing things I don’t do. But I do mark down if the writer isn’t using punctuation correctly.
C’mon, ladies and gentlemen, if you’re writing fiction, in any POV except omniscient, you are deep in the minds of the characters. Do your characters really think in language that needs colons and semi-colons? Every time you use any word, punctuation, or writing technique that is unfamiliar to your readers, we stop and try to figure it out. Why is there a colon here? Why is this sentence in question form, but without a question mark? Why is there a semi-colon in the middle of this sentence?
Try this exercise. Grab a paper and pen, and just sit around and listen to people talk. Don’t copy down what they say, but put the punctuation on the paper. If someone hesitates during a sentence put an ellipsis on your paper… or a comma,
Are you hearing anything that sounds like it needs colons and semi-colons to make you understand the relationship between the statements?
Sure, a hundred years ago, colons and semi-colons were everywhere. In fiction, as well as every other kind of writing. But then writing changed. We learned about using shorter paragraphs, showing more white space and making chapters shorter to encourage the reader to read one more page, or one more chapter. We learned that deep POV helps the reader connect with the character, to feel what the character feels. We learned to write in a different voice for each character, so the reader could really see the difference in the way characters, think, talk and act. Now could we please make the leap from the use of fancy punctuation to the use of punctuation that allows the reader to stay in the character’s head, and not get caught up in possible meanings of simple sentences?
It’s crazy making to be reading along, enjoying a story, when suddenly something pops up and you say to yourself, “Why did the author do that?” And it’s even crazier making when the author didn’t know how to it correctly. Which is why I’m CRAZY! Okay, I’m just slightly off. But if I have to read one more fiction book filled with colons and semi-colons, I may go right off the deep end. And you wouldn’t want to be responsible for that, would you?