Monday 9 December 2013

Does The Use Of Colons And Semi-Colons Date Your Style?

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
have 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 sentence.

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 little.

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 competition.

My friend said many good things about the story, then hesitated. 
‘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 of syntax.
‘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 know. Wx

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