Keith Snyder
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Semicolons in dialogue

I use semicolons in dialogue.

I know the objections. No one talks in semicolons. The semicolon is on the way out. (On my Treo, there's not even a way to type one in a text message.) Semicolons are awkward.

Okay, maybe it's on the way out. This makes no difference to me. As for awkward, commas are awkward if you're illiterate.

But I had cause to think about the "No one talks in semicolons" observation again recently, and I finally got my opinion down to a single simple thought, which is this:

Dialogue isn't what a character says. It's what the point-of-view character perceives.

Words have both sound and sense, and so do punctuation marks. In terms of sense, a semicolon implies a logical flow from one thought to another. In terms of sound, it implies a rest of more than a comma, but less than a period.

If we're in the point-of-view of a narrating character, and that character perceives both a logical flow and a moment of rest in someone's dialogue, that's a semicolon.

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