WRITING TIP: Writing styles of Brits vs. Americans

Writing tip: Semi-colons and Show, Don’t Tell

Did you know it’s all but a cardinal sin NOT to use frequent semi-colons in British writing? And did you know the Brits use far more telling than they do showing? So… who’s right? The Brits or the Americans? It isn’t a matter of who’s right. It’s a matter of who you want to sell to. Ever hear the saying, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do?”

In America, you aren’t likely to sell much (if anything) unless you use the Show, Don’t Tell rule – which means you should paint a picture of the action and not say it outright. In other words, the art in showing is found in hinting at what you want your reader to imagine. For example, if you were to say, “She blushed,” you would be telling the action. If, however, you said, “Shades of scarlet crept up her neck and into her cheeks,” you would be showing the blush. Do you see how telling speaks it outright and showing hints at what you want the reader to imagine? So methinks the Brits take the easy way out on this.

When it comes to punctuation, Brits love to use the semi-colon; American publishers hate it; if you use one semi-colon in a whole story it’s one too many; semi-colons skew the lines between commas and periods; the Brits rather like to run it all together; whereas the Americans like everything cut. And dried. Ker-chop.

So the conclusion is this: Know who you’re submitting to, where they’re located and what they want. Or… the secondary answer is, if you don’t have a handle on “showing” and you’re prone to filling your stories with semi-colons, peddle it to the Brits. For more great writing tips, get The Writer’s Choice Newsletter here: http://www.creativewritinginstitute.com


4 thoughts on “WRITING TIP: Writing styles of Brits vs. Americans

  1. As a Brit i actually think at times we speak 2 different languages as I am often at crossed purposes with Americans I meet online. I’m therefore not surprised that there are differences in what is acceptable for publishing purposes. i would be interested in reading more on this subject though.


  2. Interesting differences! I knew there were spelling distinctions between Americans, Canadians, and Brits, but I didn’t really think of other stylistic choices. Good to know (especially since I’m prone to semi-colons; at least, to using them a bit more than the general population). 🙂


  3. thanks for continuing the discussion! for your readers, we started this discussion at janiewrites.com. It is interesting that different languages (or countries) have different rules for grammar. You make a good point about knowing what the editor wants – that will be the key to getting your writing published!


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