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Q. I have written a novel and am currently working with an editor, and we have different attitudes toward the use of the semicolon. According to my editor I have used semicolons copiously, but I have done so in order to achieve the connection of thoughts and ideas that are related but not so closely that they require a comma, and in order to avoid a series of the staccatolike sentences that so much current literature is subject to. Is this acceptable in today’s modern fiction?
A. Although an editor should respect a writer’s voice and style, a writer doesn’t always realize how her voice comes across after it passes through the wickets of punctuation. There should be collaboration here. Your editor should consider each semicolon before nixing it, rather than wipe them all out on principle alone. You should acknowledge that a surfeit of semicolons can distract any reader who sees it as a writing tic; it can also be unsightly on the page, depending on the typeface. Here’s an idea: Find a passage where semicolons dominate and ask someone to read it out loud. Then replace the semicolons with commas or periods and ask someone else to read it to you. See whether you hear a difference. It might help you determine the best course.