The momentum of semicolons.
The semicolon is a powerful connector. Notice how in this excerpt of Jamaica Kincaid’s flash fiction story “Girl,” she uses semicolons to help convey tone:
“Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the color clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothesline to dry; don’t walk bare-head in the hot sun; cook pumpkin fritters in very hot sweet oil; soak your little cloths right after you take them off; when buying cotton to make yourself a nice blouse, be sure that it doesn’t have gum in it, because that way it won’t hold up well after a wash; soak salt fish overnight before you cook it…"
Isn't it amazing how the semicolon creates the rhythm of this passage, allowing us to hear the constancy and insistence of the speaker's demands? For this prompt, write a scene, à la Kincaid, that connects all clauses with semicolons. Think about the tone that a stream of connected ideas conjures, and how this might influence your plot. Who will narrate the scene? Will they be a demanding presence, an excited presence, a rushed presence? What will they communicate, and to whom?
A general note on the uses of the semicolon:
- Semicolons are most often used to connect independent clauses (what technically could be stand-alone sentences), indicating to the reader that the clauses are closely related. Example: I hate the month of April; there’s always mud up to my shins.
- Semicolons can also be used as “super commas”, to separate items in a list that contain regular commas. Example: “On my overseas trip, I’m planning to stop in Toronto, Canada; Denver, US; and Oaxaca, Mexico.