Ellipses – So Many Dots!

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 … jk….l…, ll, … lm…?n…!

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.

Website: http://www.anneli-purchase.com/

Conversations and Punctuation

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?

Emphasis

One of the problems I run into when I’m copy-editing someone’s work is the overuse of various efforts to emphasize writing.

An obvious one is the overuse of the exclamation point!!!! I’m sorry to say that I’m guilty of overusing it too, but hopefully, not in published work. Oops! I just realized that a blog post is a published work. Okay, I’m going to exclude blog posts.

When we use exclamation points (or, as I call them, exclamation marks), we are taking the lazy way out. Rather than finding better, more precise words to describe the emotion we wish to portray, we stick an exclamation mark after some ordinary words. Sometimes we even put in two or more exclamation marks, mistakenly thinking that this shows the emphasis. No! Please don’t do it. One is enough.

Exclamation marks are meant to be used sparingly, and usually only after very brief expressions (like Oops! and No!) If you use exclamation marks liberally, you will sacrifice good writing. The reader will soon tire of the smatterings of unnecessary punctuation they find throughout your work.

Another bad habit that prevents good writing is the use of the passive voice. It de-emphasizes, where the active voice would lend more urgency to the expression.

For example, here is the passive voice:

The ribbon at the finish line was broken through by the exhausted runner.

Here is the active voice:

The exhausted runner broke through the ribbon at the finish line.

Using generalizations like abstractions, euphemisms, and circumlocution, also takes away the emphasis you might have shown by using more precise words to show meaning in detail.

He gave up the ghost last week.

He died on Friday.

He minimized his exposure in oil.

He sold all but 100 of his shares in British Petroleum.

Using vague expressions like “kill two birds with one stone” and “let the cat out of the bag,” dilutes your work. Get rid of this kind of verbiage and you will improve your writing.

Now we come to one of the most common, yet misguided forms authors use in aiming for emphasis in writing.

Throwing these words into sentences is supposed to add emphasis, but it waters down the writing into a boring assortment of overused words.

Instead of saying, “He was an awfully good friend,” why not tell why that was so, and say something like, “You could always count on Bob to be there if you needed help.”

Here is a list of words that most of us use without even thinking about it much. If we left them out of our sentences, we would be forced to write something better.

amazing

awfully

beautiful(ly)

certainly

exciting

extremely

fantastic

highly

perfectly

really

richly

so

such

super

swell

terribly

too

tremendous(ly)

very

wonderful(ly)

If you find yourself using these words, ask yourself, “Do I need this word? Does it improve my writing? Can I come up with something better?”

I will save the last tip on overused words for next time, as it merits a page of its own.

Meanwhile, think of these suggestions as coming from one who is guilty of making these very mistakes and, like you, is learning along the way.

Awareness is a good place to start changing our writing for the better.

Why You Need a Copy Editor

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You start reading a book and are just getting into it when you notice a repeated word. Oh well, you shake your head and continue. On the next page you find the verb “to lie” misused, and you feel irritated. Still, it’s a good story and you want to find out what happens, so you continue. Then you see glaring punctuation mistakes in the dialogue. At this point you begin to wonder if the author knows anything about writing. You had hoped at first that they were just typos,  but repeated errors and misused words (such as “peek” instead of “peak”) now have you wondering if you can stand to read a whole book of this quality no matter how enthralling the plot is.

As an author, I would be embarrassed to publish something like this, but often we can’t see our own mistakes. On re-reading our work, our brain tells us that the words say what we intended. Our eyes gloss over the  errors because, we already know what it says–we think! This is why all authors need a good copy-editor. Our  reputation hinges on publishing good, clean writing.

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Most writers like to feel confident that their written work is free of errors. The truth is that often they are too close to their work to notice the errors that may be there.

Would you submit your work for approval if you knew that rejection was imminent? You can avoid that rejection by hiring me to proofread and edit your work.

What I Can Do for You   

Whether you have written a newspaper or magazine article, children’s book, short story, novel, or a university textbook, I can help you to make that work perfect.

I will read your work, checking for correct spelling, punctuation, grammar, balance in verb tenses, and word usage.  I will verify cross-referenced material and look for any inconsistencies in your work.

I use the Track Changes feature in Word to point out errors. This gives you the option of accepting or rejecting my suggestions without jeopardizing your original work.

If you wish, I can make recommendations for alternate wording to remedy awkward phrasing. If you need help in writing down your ideas, I can do that. I will edit your work unobtrusively.

I am comfortable and competent in editing work that is interspersed with German, French, and Spanish, including bibliographies that may contain foreign titles.

How to Send Me Your Work

You can send me your work as an email attachment, preferably as a Word file.

My Rates 

(US) $.01 per word for complete proofreading and copy-editing, checking for grammar, punctuation, word usage, and inconsistencies. I will do three pages for free so you can see the quality of my work before you decide if you’d like to hire me.

Rates are negotiable depending on the job. Discounts available for greater word counts.

Contact Information 

Anneli Purchase

Email: anneli.purchase33@gmail.com

Qualifications

  • 25 years of teaching
  • 19 years experience with copy-editing, as well as writing and editing novels and articles
  • Have attended creative writing workshops and conferences
  • Have edited university-level books and articles in Ancient History as well as in the Sciences
  • Can translate from German to English and have a good basic knowledge of French and Spanish
  • Will re-write work for you if desired
  • Can suggest changes to improve your writing if that is what you would like
  • Have a keen eye for grammar, word usage, spelling, punctuation and balance in verb tenses
  • References available

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*** Don’t forget to check out my other blog for stories and photos. Anything goes, on “wordsfromanneli.”

http://wordsfromanneli.wordpress.com