Today, while reading A Biography of Loneliness, by Fay Bound Alberti, I found a quote from Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary which she’d used as a chapter epigraph:
“I have entered into a sanctuary; a nunnery; had a religious retreat; of great agony once; and always some terror; so afraid one is of loneliness; of seeing to the bottom of the vessel. That is one of the experiences I have had here in some Augusts; and got then to a consciousness of what I call ‘reality’: a thing I see before me: something abstract; but residing in the downs or the sky; beside which nothing matters; in which I shall rest and continue to exist.”
That’s a plethora of semicolons!
I felt bold when I once used two semicolons in a sentence.
Do you think she’d get away with it today?
Wouldn’t a 21st-century editor wield their red pen?
I’m fond of the little fellow, but its place in writing is more restricted than I realised. I haven’t done much creative writing this year while slogging away at building this WordPress blog and a website.
From time to time, to keep my sanity, I’ve returned to a short story I started in January. Featuring my Cornish Detective, I intend to give it away to anyone who subscribes to my crime novel website. I started writing with no preconceptions, other than to explore the notion that locations can be cursed. My protagonist is several years younger than in the first novel and having just taken command of the Major Crimes Team, he’s still learning the ropes from his deputy officer, a veteran of 40 years.
They visit a place called The Sad House, an abandoned farm labourer’s cottage where a runaway teenager was found hiding. It’s been a place of murder and suicide for 200 years. Talking about the tragedies, the deputy falters telling a tale of murder-suicide. He half-finishes saying something, so I used a semicolon to mark how he completed his thoughts. It looked wrong! I changed it.
Then, that night, I was visited by the punctuation gods, for while reading a crime novel by Finnish author Antti Tuomainen the main character’s internal dialogue I saw it featured a couple of semicolons—and they looked clunky. It may have been a result of the original work being translated.
This morning, in one of the newsletters I subscribe to, there was an article about a newly published book all about the semicolon:
It’s not an issue that I’m agonising over, but it’s strange how a semicolon or a colon in dialogue becomes intrusive. It takes away from a guideline I cleave to, that punctuation should be correct for the situation, so correct that it becomes invisible.