This half-year has been full of editorial tasks: editing and
completing a novel before sending it to my agent; revising some of my published
novels using Createspace to re-publish them on Kindle and in paperback. I
also been reviewing other people’s work and giving editorial judgements.
We all have attitudes to prose – our own and that of other
writers. As for me, I love the subtle energy that colons and semicolons add to
prose. They are syntactical tools that act to smooth the progress from sentence to
Some people do seem to have problems with the use of colons
and semi-colons. But really it’s not so difficult: we use the colon to
provide a pause before introducing related information, while we use the semicolon
to create a break in a sentence that is stronger than a comma but not as final
as a full stop.
But there are times when we as writers need to stand back a
Recently I asked a friend – a good editor – to cast a final
eye over a story I'd been polishing making it ready for a prestigious
My friend said many good things about the story, then
‘What is it?’ I say, with writerly anxiety.
‘Well. The colons and the semi-colons…’
‘What about them?’ I am defensive. I love these subtle tools
‘Well, somehow, I’m stubbing my toe on them.’
My eyes narrow. ‘They’re all correct.’ I say.
‘Well somehow they look…’ she hesitates. ‘It’s different
with essays and factual. In fiction they look…’
Then it dawns on me. ‘…dated, old fashioned?’
She colours, ‘Well, not quite…’
But that’s certainly what she means.
I hate to think that my style might be dated. I like to
think I have an open mind: a fresh view of the world in my work. I like to
think my writing reflects this for my readers. I hope it does.
I went through my story again, reviewed the colons and
semi-colons and removed two of them. I’m not sure whether or not it was an
improvement. I have no answer as yet to this dilemma. We’ll see
So, what’s your view of colons and semi-colons? Are they a
positive or a negative element in modern writing?
It would be interesting to