The Journal: A Quick Note on Semicolons

In today’s Journal

* A new first reader
* Topic: A Quick Note on Semicolons
* The Numbers

I’m pleased to report I’ve added one new first reader, Tim W. in Virginia. Welcome aboard, Tim. And thanks!

I’m still looking to add more female first readers. If you’re interested (male or female), email me at

I like to get feedback from both a male and a female reader when possible. As politically incorrect as it is to say so, it’s been my experience that they have different sensibilities; therefore, different things pop out at them as they read.

I send every novel I write to every first reader, more as a reward than anything. But not all of them read everything I send, which is fine.

For one thing, I don’t want to overwhelm anyone. For another, not everything I write is in everyone’s wheelhouse. So I ask only that if a first reader doesn’t have either the time or desire to read something I send, they email me a quick note to let me know that.

For any Pro Writers Writing contributors out there (or anyone else, I suppose) if you want to copy/paste anything from the site, you should do so soon. I received a note from the domain registrar a day or two ago that the domain will expire soon. You can find the site at What a grand experiment it was.

Topic: A Quick Note on Semicolons

Almost everyone I’ve ever heard speak about semicolons say they have no place in fiction. (These are often the same folks who hawk other absolutes, such as “Never use an exclamation point in fiction!” or “Remove all instances of the word ‘had’ or “If you find an adverb, kill it.” And then, of course, there is a whole herd of non-thinkers who believe any word that ends with “ly” is an adverb. But I digress.

One publisher of a (then) major but long-since defunct writing magazine even wrote one time that there was no logical reason for the semicolon since it’s interchangeable with the comma. I’m sorry, truly, but that’s one of the most ignorant statements I’ve ever heard from a writing professional.

All of that is crap, and in my opinion, all of it is rooted in fear. Many of us fear spiders because they have eight legs, which (one) makes them appear to be the alien stuff of nightmares and (two) is a feature for which we can’t quite grasp a reason.

I’m not saying you should bathe in semicolons. I’m only saying in knowledge is power. Once you understand the specific but subliminal effect a semicolon has on the reader, it’s one more tool you can add to your writerly toolbox. And you can never have too many tools in your toolbox. Here are the ways, straight out of any English Composition primer, you can use a semicolon in your fiction:

1. Between two complete independent clauses to indicate a cause-and-effect relationship.

Tom skipped town three days ago; did I tell you Mary’s pregnant?

Hmm. Does this seem to imply that Tom skipped town because Mary’s pregnant? Yup. That’s because the semicolon (only a medium-length pause) ties the two sentences together in a undeniable cause-and-effect relationship.

Of course, you could also write

Tom skipped town three days ago, and did I tell you Mary’s pregnant?


Tom skipped town three days ago. Did I tell you Mary’s pregnant?

All three examples contain the same information, but only the first example ties the two together inextricably. Note that you can also use this to create misdirection. But if you do so, do so in dialogue so you can blame the misdirection on the character later.

This is why I wrote the other day in my topic about commas that the semicolon can replace any combination of a comma and a coordinating conjunction, which most often should also connect two independent clauses. (The CCs are for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so.) Of course, you want to do that only when you want to indicate a cause-and-effect relationship.

A comma plus any of those words sets up a medium-length pause. The semicolon also sets up a medium-length pause but one that carries an implication.

2. Between major items of a list that is further separated by commas. I used this one in my current novel just a day or two ago. Here’s the passage:

With the adjutant gone, there were only four: the Communications and Translation Officer (CTO), Captain Matsudo; the Navigation Officer (NavO), Lt. Armand Chazinski; and the two pilots, Ensigns William T. “Bill” Chandler and Tamara Collins.

Of course, I could have bowed to the “rule” to “never” use a semicolon in fiction. I could have written

With the adjutant gone, there were only four: Communications and Translation Officer (CTO) Captain Matsudo, Navigation Officer (NavO) Lt. Armand Chazinski, and the two pilots, Ensigns William T. “Bill” Chandler and Tamara Collins.

And yes, other constructions are possible. But using the semicolons to separate the major items forces the reader to slow down just a bit, which in turn emphasizes each of the first two characters and his or her billet on the bridge.

Why does that matter? Well, because I write into the dark, I can’t really say for sure. I can only assume those characters want to stand out. Perhaps later in the story somewhere one or both of them will do something that will make the reader glad he remembered the name and billet.

But the point is, if I didn’t know the effect of the semicolon on the reader — if I simply scratched semicolons off my list of tools and forged ahead blindly without them because some hack in the past said they have no place in fiction — I would have robbed myself of a choice.

Read both examples again. Both contain exactly the same information, yet you won’t be able to read through the first example as quickly as you read through the second. (Unless you force yourself to, in which case you will mentally remove the semicolons.)

And again, that’s the point. Whether you “prefer” the first example or the second or some other version, using the semicolon creates a different effect in the reader.

With your punctuation or lack thereof, you direct and control the reading of your work. Since that’s a rock-solid truth, you might as well do so intentionally.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “Addicted “to,” not “with”” at

See “Is Your Writer’s Block Really Writer’s Indecision?” at No, it’s writer’s fear.

See “5 Ways to Banish Overused Words” at Just a reminder that I do not always agree with what I link to here.

See “What the Color ‘Haint Blue’ Means to the Descendants of Enslaved Africans” at Actually, I heard about the powers of “haint blue” from my grandmother when I was a child.

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1150 words

Writing of The Journey Home: Part 3 (novel)

Day 1…… 1568 words. Total words to date…… 1568
Day 2…… 2963 words. Total words to date…… 4531
Day 3…… 4652 words. Total words to date…… 9183
Day 4…… 5506 words. Total words to date…… 14689
Day 5…… 4107 words. Total words to date…… 18796

Total fiction words for December……… 68219
Total fiction words for the year………… 520750
Total nonfiction words for December… 13510
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 198720
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 719470

Calendar Year 2020 Novels to Date…………………… 8
Calendar Year 2020 Novellas to Date……………… X
Calendar Year 2020 Short Stories to Date… 13
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 53
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 214
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31