When we got to Sargeant Bay that day, we found a new ride on the beach. But how did it get there? Was it simply an accident of the tides, or the hand of the cosmos?
Eats, Shoots and Leaves author Lynne Truss wrote eloquently about the lack of respect that the lowly comma gets despite its obvious usefulness, but I think it’s really the semicolon that’s got people baffled. I mean, it sort of looks like a comma, but then it has that extra little dot on top, so maybe it’s more like a colon.
The truth is that the semicolon performs the same function as a period. It’s just a bit more subtle than the period. A period signals the separation of two complete thoughts. It marks the spot where one thought ends and a new one begins. A semicolon does the same thing, but it also says the two ideas are connected or related in some way. It kind of blurs the separation between the two statements.
The key point to remember is that semicolons should only be used to separate independent clauses, which is really just a fancy way of saying sentence. If either of the two clauses that you’re separating is not a sentence expressing a complete thought, then you can’t use a semi colon. The title of this article, for example, uses a semicolon incorrectly because neither of the phrases on either side of the semicolon expresses a complete thought.
Here’s an example of where you could use a semicolon:
Tommy bought socks at the store; Janie got a new hat.
Both statements could stand on their own as sentences and the two statements are obviously related. A period would also be correct here, but if you wanted to emphasize the connection, the semicolon would be the better choice.
There was an interesting thread on the Amazon author’s community discussion board a few weeks ago. It started with a post about writers who sometimes trade favourable reviews of each other’s books. The response from the Amazon writer’s community was quite encouraging for me. Most described the practice of trading reviews as highly unethical and said they personally wouldn’t do it.
While the consensus in the Amazon community was to trash the idea, I’m sure it’s something that does happen, and not just with others other writers but with friends and family members as well. However, I don’t think writers who engage in these practices are doing themselves any good. Readers are savvy enough not to base their entire buying decision on one or two glowing reviews, especially when other indicators like the sample pages don’t seem to jive with the review.
My favourite response from the Amazon group was from one writer who said: “If you want some good reviews, write a good book and then wait for your readers to review it.”
I never cease to marvel at the power of a compelling story to shape our collective perspective of right and wrong. This one made me smile, and cry. Take a few minutes to listen. It might just change your life forever…