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(Short List)   "Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing." - 50 pieces of writing advice; from authors   (shortlist.com) divider line 84
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4632 clicks; posted to Entertainment » on 07 Apr 2013 at 8:29 AM (1 year ago)   |  Favorite    |   share:  Share on Twitter share via Email Share on Facebook   more»



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2013-04-07 11:59:59 AM
Aside from the fact that most of those "pieces of writing advice" were "thoughts from authors about literature, storytelling, or the written word in general", interesting.
 
2013-04-07 12:15:55 PM
I understand that he does not like the semicolon; however, you can take my semicolon when you pry it from my cold dead hands.
 
2013-04-07 12:23:20 PM

Speaker2Animals: ginandbacon: These people cannot seriously expect anyone to just start clicking on fifty pictures one by one for a single tip, can they? Sites like this are anathema to me.

This.


Yeah, especially when using a phone...
 
2013-04-07 12:26:39 PM
Jeez, what a collection of pretentious windbags.
 
2013-04-07 01:02:16 PM
lh6.ggpht.com
What a transvestite hermaphrodite may look like.

/The horror...
 
2013-04-07 01:07:59 PM
That website's designer combined the worst characteristics of slide shows and rollovers; achieving a result that is far more irritating and labor intensive than either.
 
2013-04-07 01:32:29 PM
As a writer, one thing I've learned - never take punctuation advice from writers. If you want punctuation advice, get it from editors.
 
2013-04-07 01:37:42 PM

FormlessOne: As a writer, one thing I've learned - never take punctuation advice from writers. If you want punctuation advice, get it from editors.


Using (or not using) semi-colons is not really a punctuation choice, though- it's a very deep decision about how you structure your sentences. As a general rule, any writer is better served by writing short, concise sentences with a minimum number of clauses.
 
2013-04-07 01:50:31 PM
I use semicolons whenever I want; nothing you can do will stop me.
 
2013-04-07 02:05:56 PM
beat this person with a bag of semicolons.
 
2013-04-07 02:28:53 PM
This explains why Vonnegut is so prone to writing either short blurbs or ridiculous run-on sentences. I never understood why so many people hold him in such high regard. He's okay, but he's not what I'd consider a good storyteller.

But then, I also frown on people who believe Shakespeare is the be-all, end-all of writers, too.

Honestly-- and I know he's considered lowbrow and common these days-- I think Stephen King has an amazing way of telling a story. He doesn't always tell a GOOD story, but the WAY he tells it is always easy on the eyes, and quite natural-sounding/feeling.  He's not the best writer ever, but King is a good storyteller.

Anyway, people who are pretentious about literature are the least interesting people to be around when you talk about books. The purpose of writing is to express information-- A story, instructions, etc.--and people who think that it serves some higher purpose and requires amazing credentials and education are the ones who suck all the joy out of it. If you can tell a story/impart the information, make it interesting, and keep the reader's interest then you have succeeded as a writer.

If you're reading a book and you have to force yourself through it, then you have to ask yourself:  Why is this considered a classic?

Most people will assume it's a failing of their own intellect or attention span, but honestly, a lot of so-called "classics" are examples of pretentious, overbearing, self-important writing that are neither fun, nor entertaining. They're purely of interest as a point of academic study.

There's a difference between an English professor and a writer. One is overly concerned with sentence structure, grammar rules, and the technical aspects of writing, while the other isn't boring.

There's a place for writing skills, of course, but the technicalities should  never get in the way of telling a good story.
 
2013-04-07 02:33:58 PM

bborchar: t3knomanser: bborchar: I agree that semicolons are overused; however, they are necessary in some types of sentences.

I agree that they are sometimes necessary. Your example, however, is a bad one; the secondary clause could easily stand alone, or been brought more intimately included in the sentence.

"I agree that semicolons are overused. They are, however, necessary in some types of sentences."
"I agree that semicolons are overused, but they are necessary in some types of sentences."

It's still a valid use of a semicolon.  Anyone who says "you can NEVER use this in writing" is an idiot.  Yes, some things can be overused or used incorrectly, but that doesn't mean you have to  always avoid using them when there is a valid reason to do so.


I have always felt the same way about Mark Twain's insistence that we never use "very", because there are times when it is the right word for the job.

Of course, he also lived in an age when an editor had to tear his books apart before publishing them. These days, we're seeing that when you don't have an outside editor with an eye on saving ink, books get published with all these "nevers" in place, and they do quite well.

You can't tell me Fifty Shades of Grey  or  Twilight  had the benefit of an editor like the ones from Mark Twain's day. Yet they're on track for outselling him.
 
2013-04-07 03:08:44 PM

t3knomanser: It's grammatically valid, certainly, but it's still a poor usage of a semi-colon. It needn't be there, and it really shouldn't be there. I stand by my initial statement: a semi-colon is a sign that two poorly written sentences have been merged together to make a single poorly written sentence.


A semicolon joins two complete sentences where the second sentence amplifies or clarifies the meaning of the first. Semicolons are in no way inferior to using a period or rewriting the second sentence into a clause; they're often more elegant. I think the problem often lies not with poorly-written sentences, but poorly read sentences. People today seem to hate subtlety and shades of meaning. They want short, stark bursts of information, and our pal the semicolon doesn't work that way.
 
2013-04-07 03:10:42 PM

ZeroCorpse: I have always felt the same way about Mark Twain's insistence that we never use "very", because there are times when it is the right word for the job.


But it probably isn't. I'm actually writing a program right now that identifies weak writing and carefully inserts the word "farking". In the case of "very", it simply replaces it entirely with "farking". All other adverbs get a "farking" attached to them, as appropriate.
 
2013-04-07 03:13:23 PM

wiredroach: People today seem to hate subtlety and shades of meaning.


Using a semicolon to amplify a sentence is the exact opposite of being "subtle" or "shading" meaning. Subtlety and shading arise from what is  not said. Direct sentences allow a very fine control over what is not said; complex and crowded sentences add details that probably aren't needed. Subtlety is a scalpel. The semicolon is a cudgel.
 
2013-04-07 03:15:42 PM

t3knomanser: Using a semicolon to amplify a sentence is the exact opposite of being "subtle" or "shading" meaning. Subtlety and shading arise from what is not said. Direct sentences allow a very fine control over what is not said; complex and crowded sentences add details that probably aren't needed. Subtlety is a scalpel. The semicolon is a cudgel.


No part of that makes any sense.
 
2013-04-07 03:16:29 PM

wiredroach: No part of that makes any sense.


What were we saying about "poorly read" sentences?
 
2013-04-07 03:18:57 PM

t3knomanser: What were we saying about "poorly read" sentences?


I'll leave it unsaid; apparently that's more subtle.
 
2013-04-07 03:46:07 PM
Those of you criticizing Vonnegut's advice here obviously don't read enough Vonnegut.  Here, for example, are his 8 rules for writing (relevant part bolded):


Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.Start as close to the end as possible.Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.

So in short: if you are a good enough writer you can use semicolons.
 
2013-04-07 03:48:47 PM

RyansPrivates: Those of you criticizing Vonnegut's advice here obviously don't read enough Vonnegut.  Here, for example, are his 8 rules for writing (relevant part bolded):


1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
2. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
3. Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.
4. Start as close to the end as possible.
5. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
6. Write to please just one person.
7. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.


The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.

So in short: if you are a good enough writer you can use semicolons.


For some reason, Fark farked my farking numbering.  Corrected above
 
2013-04-07 04:32:41 PM

RyansPrivates: 1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.


Rule number one appears to consist of two rules.
 
2013-04-07 04:52:36 PM

t3knomanser: FormlessOne: As a writer, one thing I've learned - never take punctuation advice from writers. If you want punctuation advice, get it from editors.

Using (or not using) semi-colons is not really a punctuation choice, though- it's a very deep decision about how you structure your sentences. As a general rule, any writer is better served by writing short, concise sentences with a minimum number of clauses.


Kind of missing the point, there. Any writer worth his or her salt would agree with your sentiment. And, yet, many writers still construct convoluted sentences, with torturous clauses, for any number of reasons. It's why I like editors - a good writer knows the rules, but a good editor enforces them.
 
2013-04-07 04:55:14 PM
Meh - my reply sounds too sarcastic. My apologies. My point is that I tend to favor the opinions of editors of those of writers when it comes to usage. I'm a fan of the em dash, the semi-colon, and any other mechanism that communicates the right information in the right place, and I sometimes don't use them to proper effect. Editors ensure that my content looks less silly upon release into the wild, so I tend to favor their advice over that of other writers.
 
2013-04-07 06:28:30 PM

RyansPrivates: RyansPrivates: Those of you criticizing Vonnegut's advice here obviously don't read enough Vonnegut.  Here, for example, are his 8 rules for writing (relevant part bolded):


1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
2. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
3. Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.
4. Start as close to the end as possible.
5. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
6. Write to please just one person.
7. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.


The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.

So in short: if you are a good enough writer you can use semicolons.

For some reason, Fark farked my farking numbering.  Corrected above


I always disagreed with #8 anyway.
 
2013-04-07 06:57:02 PM

t3knomanser: bborchar: I agree that semicolons are overused; however, they are necessary in some types of sentences.

I agree that they are sometimes necessary. Your example, however, is a bad one; the secondary clause could easily stand alone, or been brought more intimately included in the sentence.

"I agree that semicolons are overused. They are, however, necessary in some types of sentences."
"I agree that semicolons are overused, but they are necessary in some types of sentences."


The full quote was: ""Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college." 

I believe Vonnegut was trying to differentiate between creative writing and other types of writing. A good story is typically telling what people do and say, and they tend not to talk, think, and act in semi-colons. For news writing or academic writing or philosophical writing or whatever, they're quite necessary and useful. For creative writing - especially for the sort of Creative Writing 101 folks that this quote sounds like it was intended for - semi-colons make your writing seem unnecessarily verbose and complex. 

Don't say 'The next morning, bitter cold descended on the Wall; unable to sleep, Jon Snow rose before dawn and rode alone on an eastward patrol; Snow was at his side.' 

Instead, say 'The next morning, bitter cold descended on the Wall. Jon Snow was unable to sleep. He rose before dawn and rode east with Snow at his side.'

Both are perfectly readable (apologies to GRR Martin), and the say the exact same thing. But the first is prolix, and liable to tie an inexperienced author up in their own complexity, while the second is a series of simple declarative sentences.
 
2013-04-07 08:49:36 PM

red5ish: RyansPrivates: 1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

Rule number one appears to consist of two rules.


My bad...that is indeed number 2.  6 and 7 are part of the same rule.  As I said, fark farked my numbers ;-)
 
2013-04-07 09:02:58 PM

ZeroCorpse: This explains why Vonnegut is so prone to writing either short blurbs or ridiculous run-on sentences. I never understood why so many people hold him in such high regard. He's okay, but he's not what I'd consider a good storyteller.

But then, I also frown on people who believe Shakespeare is the be-all, end-all of writers, too.

Honestly-- and I know he's considered lowbrow and common these days-- I think Stephen King has an amazing way of telling a story. He doesn't always tell a GOOD story, but the WAY he tells it is always easy on the eyes, and quite natural-sounding/feeling.  He's not the best writer ever, but King is a good storyteller.

Anyway, people who are pretentious about literature are the least interesting people to be around when you talk about books. The purpose of writing is to express information-- A story, instructions, etc.--and people who think that it serves some higher purpose and requires amazing credentials and education are the ones who suck all the joy out of it. If you can tell a story/impart the information, make it interesting, and keep the reader's interest then you have succeeded as a writer.

If you're reading a book and you have to force yourself through it, then you have to ask yourself:  Why is this considered a classic?

Most people will assume it's a failing of their own intellect or attention span, but honestly, a lot of so-called "classics" are examples of pretentious, overbearing, self-important writing that are neither fun, nor entertaining. They're purely of interest as a point of academic study.

There's a difference between an English professor and a writer. One is overly concerned with sentence structure, grammar rules, and the technical aspects of writing, while the other isn't boring.

There's a place for writing skills, of course, but the technicalities should  never get in the way of telling a good story.


Newsletter please
 
2013-04-07 09:14:13 PM
Bleah. Hated these things in university, hate them still.

Hey! Here's a list of short bits of advice for being a great theoretical physicist! Read them, and voila! You're now a great theoretical physicist!

Personal mantra masquerading as advice is not advice. It's eloquent onanism at best.
 
2013-04-07 11:09:04 PM
"I have nothing else to tell; unless, indeed, I were to confess that no one can ever believe this narrative, in the reading, more than I have believed it in the writing."

True to form, sadly.  Dickens is one of the most overrated, horrifically bad writers in the history of the English language.  I would piss on his grave on a daily basis if I lived anywhere near it.
 
2013-04-08 12:56:39 AM
That's going to make it hard to code.
 
2013-04-08 01:14:53 AM

RyansPrivates: RyansPrivates: Those of you criticizing Vonnegut's advice here obviously don't read enough Vonnegut.  Here, for example, are his 8 rules for writing (relevant part bolded):


1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
2. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
3. Every sentence must do one of two things-reveal character or advance the action.
4. Start as close to the end as possible.
5. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them-in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
6. Write to please just one person.
7. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.


The greatest American short story writer of my generation was Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964). She broke practically every one of my rules but the first. Great writers tend to do that.

So in short: if you are a good enough writer you can use semicolons.

For some reason, Fark farked my farking numbering.  Corrected above


I felt like my time was not wasted reading your post. Thanks.
 
2013-04-08 01:34:43 AM

ZeroCorpse: This explains why Vonnegut is so prone to writing either short blurbs or ridiculous run-on sentences. I never understood why so many people hold him in such high regard. He's okay, but he's not what I'd consider a good storyteller.

But then, I also frown on people who believe Shakespeare is the be-all, end-all of writers, too.

Honestly-- and I know he's considered lowbrow and common these days-- I think Stephen King has an amazing way of telling a story. He doesn't always tell a GOOD story, but the WAY he tells it is always easy on the eyes, and quite natural-sounding/feeling.  He's not the best writer ever, but King is a good storyteller.

Anyway, people who are pretentious about literature are the least interesting people to be around when you talk about books. The purpose of writing is to express information-- A story, instructions, etc.--and people who think that it serves some higher purpose and requires amazing credentials and education are the ones who suck all the joy out of it. If you can tell a story/impart the information, make it interesting, and keep the reader's interest then you have succeeded as a writer.

If you're reading a book and you have to force yourself through it, then you have to ask yourself:  Why is this considered a classic?

Most people will assume it's a failing of their own intellect or attention span, but honestly, a lot of so-called "classics" are examples of pretentious, overbearing, self-important writing that are neither fun, nor entertaining. They're purely of interest as a point of academic study.

There's a difference between an English professor and a writer. One is overly concerned with sentence structure, grammar rules, and the technical aspects of writing, while the other isn't boring.

There's a place for writing skills, of course, but the technicalities should  never get in the way of telling a good story.


Except Moby Dick.  That rocks.  Oh and Agamemnon and Oedipus Rex, they rock too.  And Hamlet.  And Dante's Inferno.  Oh and The Republic.  Those  rock.
 
2013-04-08 02:17:01 AM

yukichigai: cppfile.cpp: In function `int main()':cppfile.cpp:7: parse error before `>'
Well what do you know?  Turns out authors are crap for C++ advice.


I'd be awesome if this turned into a Python C++ flamewar.
 
2013-04-08 05:32:48 AM
Damn, website blocked at work. Anybody feeling generous enough to type the advices here ?
 
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