Demystifying the semicolon. My newly crowned teenager said to me last week: “Mom, I just don’t get when to use the semicolon.”
“Never fear,” I said to her (yes, I actually said that). “The semicolon is actually a pretty easy punctuation concept to understand.”
And it is, as hoity-toity as the darn thing seems. Think of it as a “soft” period. So instead of having two sentences come one right after the other, a semicolon will link those sentences so that they are one — quite a handy little tool. For example:
My son Griffin is hungry. He’s making himself some Ramen noodle soup.
Those sentences are perfectly fine, as is. But you can also replace that first period with a semicolon, get rid of the capital “H” in “He’s” and connect them as one sentence:
My son Griffin is hungry; he’s making himself some Ramen noodle soup.
Why on earth would you want to do this? Well, sometimes you want to form a bond between two sentences (or independent clauses), usually because they are related in some way. It’s a style choice that tells the reader that those two complete thoughts are meant to be linked.
And the best part? No conjunctions — ands, ifs or buts — are needed. Just the semi. All by its regal self.
Vary your sentence structure. The first time I revised Baby Grand, last fall, one of my biggest complaints with my writing was probably with sentence structure. While working on the rough draft, we’re so concerned (as we should be) with getting it all down — plot details, etc. — that we can forget to do it in a way that is interesting to read. Think of your writing as a piece of music: If it contains notes that are played over and over the same way, it can be monotonous to listen to. Similarly, with the written word, it’s important to mix up your writing with a variety of sentences that help change the cadence and emphasis of your words. A quick primer:
Simple sentence: Has one independent clause
Dina has written a novel.
Compound sentence: Has two independent clauses joined by a semi-colon, coordinating conjunction or conjunctive adverb
Dina has written a novel; she has yet to find a publisher.
Complex sentence: Has one dependent clause joined to an independent clause
Although she is a journalist, Dina has written a novel; she has yet to find a publisher.
Using all types of sentences — apart from the plot or whatever it is you’re trying to say — will help enliven and enrich your writing. It’s something you should keep in mind while you revise your manuscript. (Remember, the revision process is the place for worrying about this stuff. While writing, just get it all down — you can adjust sentence structure later.) Also, keep in mind that a complex sentence isn’t always best when a simple one will do just fine.