One thing I see frequently when I’m copy-editing (to be honest, I see it in almost every book I edit) is the confusion about how to use ellipses. (Before I go on, let me say that ellipsis is the singular form and ellipses is the plural).
Sometimes in our writing, we want to show that the speaker is hesitating. Sometimes we want to show that some words were left out on purpose. Sometimes we want to show that a person is just drifting off and stops speaking before finishing his sentence.
All of these things can be shown using ellipses. But how many dots should we use? If more words are left out, should we use more dots? If the hesitation is longer, do we use more dots?
The use of ellipses can be quite involved, but for writing fiction or for writing informally, here is a method that is fairly simple to learn and to remember.
Basically it is a three-dot method, although sometimes you may see four dots used. The fourth dot means that one of them is a period marking the end of the sentence.
Robert Bringhurst in Elements of Typographic Style, suggests that normally an ellipsis should be spaced fore-and-aft to separate it from the text, but when it combines with other punctuation, the leading space disappears and the other punctuation follows. He provides the following examples:
i … j
l, … l
I find these examples very helpful when I’m writing and want to show that something is missing. The examples also help me to keep my punctuation correct and stop me from going wild with more than four dots…………..
Have you seen this done? Have you done it yourself? Well, now you can do it right and quite simply without wondering what you should do.
Some examples for each of the above cases:
What kind of fruit do I like? Er … let me think….
I like bananas, oranges, and plums…, but most of all, … yes, I think I like papayas.
Do you like papayas best, or is there something else you prefer, like…? I know, it’s that one that starts with m…! Mangos!
Often, if we try, we can work around the use of ellipses, but if you really need them, try using the little chart above as a guide.
But don’t let them make you go dotty.
If you need a copy-editor, check out my website and click on the tab for Copy-editing.
Dialogue adds interest for the reader and helps to bring them into the story, almost as if they were an invisible bystander in a conversation. It also helps to break up what could be dreary paragraphs of narrative that could be a turnoff after a while.
Using a conversation helps to show, rather than tell, what the characters are feeling. So, great! Why not use some dialogue to perk up the story? But be sure to do it right, or your reader will give up in disgust.
Some basic punctuation rules will help to make your dialogue look professional.
First of all, think of your dialogue as a sentence just like any other with a capital letter at the beginning and a period at the end.
Second, we want to show which words the person said. These go between double quotation marks.
“You sure are bossy,” Joe said.
The part that is inside the quotation marks is like a sentence within a sentence, but instead of a period at the end of what he said, we put a comma, or a question mark if it is warranted. These go INSIDE the closing quotation marks.
If there is a quotation inside a quotation, you would use single quotation marks to show that.
“Did he say ‘You sure are bossy’?” Darryl asked.
Supposing Joe had more to say, and wants to continue his sentence. The dialogue tag (Joe said) interrupts the words he is speaking, so we use a comma to separate it from the spoken words and no capital letter is needed to continue the words he spoke .
“I’ve asked you three times already,” Joe said, “if you’d like to go to the movies with me.”
However, if Joe has two or more sentences to say, we must treat them just like any other sentences, separated by a period.
“I’ve asked you three times already,” Joe said. “That tells me you don’t want to come with me. Why didn’t you just say so?”
If you are trying to show that the character is thinking some words, these are put into italics and not within quotation marks.
“I’ve asked you three times to come to the movies with me,” Joe said. I guess that should have told me she doesn’t want to go.
If you have dialogue at the end of a paragraph and perhaps the speaker is changing the subject, so you want to start a new paragraph as he continues to speak, you leave off the final quotation marks but begin the new paragraph with quotation marks. This way we know it is still the same speaker. If it is a new speaker, we put the closing quotation marks on the sentence before beginning a new quotation.
“I painted the house since you were gone,” Joe said. “I hope you like it.
“By the way, would you like to come to the movies with me tonight?” he added.
Also, notice that no capital is used to begin the dialogue tag (he added) after the quotation, unless it is a person’s name, of course.
“I hope this helps you with your punctuation,” Anneli said, “especially in the case of a sentence interrupted by a dialogue tag.” I wonder what they’ll think. Will they leave a comment to tell me?