Inkception News

The Bugger of an Ellipses

Posted by jenny.wendorf@rocketmail.com on May 26, 2013 at 1:55 AM

So I work as a freelance editor, and really there are so many pieces of useless information that you have to understand if you want your manuscript to look professional. Heck, in many cases the professionals get confused. There are gray areas, there's confusion, and many times it matters what country you are publishing from, what nationality the author is from, or even... the character.

One that I'll touch on today is the ellipses. Ellipses, what are they? In a formal school paper, they indicate that what you are quoting continues either from the beginning or the end or, that you've deleted something. Mostly though, in fiction, we use them in a less scientific and more emotional way. They indicate a pause... but only a certain kind. They can be used to trail off, like to depict a character lost in thought, but be sure that he doesn't complete his sentence. This is shown by the regular three dots.

"I put my dog to sleep. It's really put me to sleep. I mean..."

He's sad. This is not an interruption. If someone is interrupted or for some other reason the sound breaks off suddenly use an emdash or a dash with a space on each side.

"I am not going to pick up that--"

"Yes you will!"

"I am not going to pick up that - "

"Yes you will!"

Em-dashes look more professional than dashes with spaces. In your word processor you can find em-dashes in symbols, advanced symbols, and then look for the longest line which is centered, not ( _ ). An ellipse can also indicate a total change of thought or subject. This is key where people or talking, or in internal monologue when people typical think and speak in fragments.

"I don’t want to... no I... well okay."

"I have never seen a car so... my toe!"

Notice you would not write: "I have never seen a car so beautiful... crap, my toe!"

They are both complete sentences and they don't need an ellipses.

"I have never seen a car so beautiful. Crap, my toe!"

Other forms of ellipses are: ..., .... ...? When do we use them? Well, we don't need to use them frequently in prose. .... Comes at the end of a text which has been copied which continues, but the last copied sentence is a complete thought. (...?) This variation is more frequent in dialog and indicates that a trailing thought is inflected upward, a question.

"I wanted to head to the movies tonight. Did you...?"

He nodded as if wishing to say not only she could come with him to see a show, but that maybe they could be sweet on each other, too. You could just write, 'I wanted to head to the movies tonight. Did you?' The meaning is slightly changed. The previous ellipsis indicates he's sort of drawing out the words, like he's not sure of himself. These are really the times you need an ellipses like this. It's actually better to use them sparingly so that when you do use them, they really stand out. One common newbie mistake is using an ellipsis or a semi-colon, or a dash where a comma would do. You've got to think of the underlying meaning. Say it out loud. How long is that pause? What does changing the pause's length do to the syntax (underlying meaning) of the sentence? (...,) This is not common at all in prose.

"Hey...," she fidgeted. "Let's go to the movies."

"Hey," she fidgeted. "Let's go to the movies."

I suppose it works, but only in that situation. No, on second thought just use the dang comma. See what I mean about gray areas? Just because something exists in an archaic literary sense, doesn’t mean it’s standard practice to use it. Honestly, I think the comma there works just fine. However, if you disagree and you HAVE to insert the ellipsis, that would be a situation where it would need to be enclosed in a comma. For instance, I commonly see:

"I love to bike, and rock climb..., and shoot a gun."

Nope. Regular ellipse would do. Also notice the space. Spacing ellipses is also one of those gray rules that everyone under the sun has an opinion about. In "The Brief Penguin Handbook" it states that there should be a thin space put between each dot . . . Many people know the space rule, but not that they should make those spaces a size or two thinner so that the ellipses doesn't go on forever. Yes, I hate how that looks... unnatural. It's too long, and publishers are looking for ways to cut down a lot of unnecessary paper usage. The 2011 Associate Press Style book states that an ellipsis should have a space on each side ( ... ). But this is mostly for journalists. If you choose this route just be consistent. I personally prefer a space at the end. This is what GINGER recommends, and honestly I think it makes more emotional sense.

"Go get the... not that! G-O..." Not: "Go get the... not that! G-O... "

You don't want to space between the ellipses and the quotation mark, or the comma, period, or question mark if you're using one. This is because a word processor will see the space and think that mark can be divided, like for instance of it's at the end of a line of paper. Why space at all? Well, you don't technically have to, but if you open a published book printed from any of the major publishing houses you will see that most of them space their ellipses with at least a thin space either in between the dots, after, or after and before. That extra space makes us pause, and it brings emphasis to the next word.

The human eye and mind will pause and really pay attention to the next thing said. So ellipses are good. Just don't over use them. Commas and periods should always be the standard. In fact, commas are starting to take over places where semi-colons and dashes used to be required. It just depends on what you are writing.

Something artsy-flowy, like literary fiction, could simply do with commas and less other stuff. They are more lenient and out-of-the-box. In fact, check the punctuation in Louise Erdrich's "The Round House," 2012's National Book Award winner, and you'll see what I mean. Something less artsy, like hard science fiction or non-fiction, will require you to really stick to those hard and fast punctuation rules. It really just depends on the psychology of your audience. What will they tolerate? And, what is your style?

Okay... I'm seriously off topic now. Oops! Ellipses are awesome! But, use them right please. Makes my job easier.

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