The Miseducation of Semicolons

The angst in each breath was daunting; my lungs couldn’t find life again.
OR
The angst in each breath was daunting. My lungs couldn’t find life again.

This is my life. To semicolon or not to semicolon…that is the question. And I’m sick of trying to answer it but then a ray of light burst through the clouds.

My dear friends at The Write Practice (okay, I don’t know anyone there but I swear it feels like I’ve met them), have helped to ease my mind about this ridiculous drama behind the semicolon.

In their article When To Use a Semicolon, they give two great ways and things to think about when we all go through this dilemma.

Here’s a couple of rules they suggested:

1. Each clause of the sentence needs to be an independent clause.
You know what an independent clause is, right? You’re writers! Sometimes, however, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the semicolon, and you’ll want to use it everywhere. Don’t.

If you’re going to use it, make sure that each clause can stand on its own as a fully formed sentence. If it helps, mentally separate the two clauses with a period to test their independence.

Justin didn’t walk; he ran. Justin didn’t walk. He ran.

2. Use them sparingly.
It can get exhausting for your reader if there is too much going on in one sentence. If there is too much going on in each sentence for a full paragraph, that may result in reader mutiny, and you’re going to have trouble bringing them back. Use the semicolon to connect ideas that are related, but don’t try to connect every single idea in a paragraph. Periods are your friends (at least in this context).

Ellie subtly flared her nostrils; the smell of lilac and lavender filled the air; it reminded her of her summers in the hills of Ohio; she and her cousins would make crowns of daisies and give them to their mothers.

For the love of God and the sanity of your readers, do not do this.

Ellie subtly flared her nostrils. The smell of lilac and lavender filled the air; it reminded her of her summers in the hills of Ohio. She and her cousins would make crowns of daisies and give them to their mothers.

Did that brighten your semicolon day? If so, or not, let me know. What are you thoughts about the mighty semi C (yep, I gave it a nickname)?

#Writerslife Techniques for creating a character who is “nothing like you”

I ran into this great article about different techniques to try in creating a character you are not. Advice given from Terry McMillan, best-selling author of Waiting to Exhale, is broken down into some digestible and doable tricks.

Here are a few excerpts that grabbed my attention. Check out the full article, How to Write a Character Who is Nothing Like You, on The Write Practice.


Empathize

To write in the mind of a rich nine-year-old boy when you are a working-class thirty-year-old woman, you need a certain degree of empathy.

What would a young boy spend his days thinking about?  What would cause him to worry? How much knowledge would he have about the people and things with which he interacts?

You don’t need to know what his experience is like if you allow yourself to literally imagine how it feels to walk in his shoes (and sleep in his bed and eat his breakfast and watch his TV shows).

Listen

How can a twenty-something white man write dialogue for an elderly Chinese woman? Simple. By listening.

Pay close attention to the people around you at your job, on the train or in the supermarket.  When you find someone in your character’s demographic, listen to how he or she speaks.  Notice to whom that person is talking (does the speech change when she speaks to someone else?).

Then use what you have heard in your writing.

Fill Out a Job Application on Behalf of Your Character (MY FAVORTIE TAKAWAY)

Terry McMillan said she knows everything about her characters before she starts writing.  It began when she grabbed a job application from a local establishment and then filled out on behalf of her characters—full name, date of birth, work experience, strengths and weakness.

Over time she added more and more questions to the list—does the character pay her taxes on time?  Does she believe in abortion?

Only a small portion of these details ever made into her novels, but she knew everything she possibly could about the characters she created.

By answering these basic questions on behalf of your characters, you will develop a clearer idea about who they are as people before you start writing.  They may be nothing like you, but after engaging in this practice you will at least know who they are.

Ask yourself, what is your character’s worst childhood memory?  What is her favorite movie?  Did she ever have a bad break up?