Monday, February 28, 2011

dots (ellipsis) and dashes.

Dots (ellipsis) and dashes. I'm not talking Morse code. I'm talking about using these little treasures in your dialogue. One of the ways I start writing a scene is by writing the dialogue. It's usually the first thing that I "see" my characters doing. After the dialogue is down, then I fill in the rest. I do know that I've doodled my manuscripts with dots (ellipsis) and dashes. What do I mean? Pick up any novel that has tons of dialogue and check out the punctuation. I'm not going to write a super long post about punctuating dialogue. (Seriously, my ADD is full swing today so sorry, plus I'm not awake yet.)

Do you see any lines that have ... or --? Yeah, I'm sure they are there. So, why and how?

Here is what I've learned.

... (Ellipsis dots) :
When writing dialogue, your character may not know what to say next or just have a loss of words.

Jack open the black velvet box. A large diamond ring, sparkled. Ariel stepped back. "Jack...I don't know what to say..."

The character may stutter or stammer.

 "I...I...have the money." His sweating hands slipped as they opened the black bag.

Make sure you use only three when using ellipsis. It's one of those rules.

When writing dialogue, the dash can be used for an interruption or a sudden break in the thought or sentence structure.

Jack's hand shook as he held the box. "I thought you might like--"
"I love it," Ariel interrupted.

"Well--what's your answer," Jack said.

I'm not the best person for examples, but I think you get the idea. I tried to make this a short lesson. Like I said, my ADD is kicking in.

As always, use these in moderation. You don't want to overdo it.

Check out these links for more information on dashes and dots (ellipsis).

Dialogue by Victory Crane

The Ellipsis by R. Ann Siracusa

134 How to Punctuate Dialog in Fiction by Terence Kuch

Anything to add?

Any interesting posts on this topic? Please share.

I received a few awards over the past few weeks. Thank you so much. I hope to get to them soon.

I have about 30 pages left to revise for the first round of revisions on WiP#1. Can't wait. I will put it away for a while then go back and chop it up some more. During the WiP#1 rest time, I'm ready to start something brand spankin' new. I'm so ready to write. I'm super excited.

How was your weekend?

Have a great day!


  1. You are so close to finishing your revisions!!!

    great lesson on dialogue punctuation!

  2. Dashes and ellipses seem to be used well - or they end up being like the plague. Done well, I don't notice them in stories. Done porely, they stick out. I use dashes more in commenting and emails than I do in my writing. I guess laziness?

  3. I don't use dashes, but I do use ellipsis.

  4. Like Alex, I don't use dashes. But do use ellipses. I think because I'm old school. The dash hadn't been invented when I learned how to write.

    Great progress on the revisions. I'm pulling for you!

  5. Ellipses and dashes are my favorite forms of punctuation! I think I overuse them, actually.

    Good luck with the new idea!

  6. Writing something new is always fun, though I prefer revisions over first drafts.

    Great lesson. I use both. :D

  7. I love ellipses and dashes and am probably guilty of over-using them!

    Ellie Garratt

  8. Yay! You're 20 pages closer? Did I do the math right? You're so close!!!
    I don't know if I have much to add on this (actually I do but it's coming in a post of mine in the future so I reserve my comment for then) ;) I will say though, the abuse of... drives me insane. Not that I haven't done it a few times myself, but it erks me to no end. Moderation.
    Best wishes on the revisions!!! :D

  9. What an interesting and informative post. I think I did the dot thing a little too much at one point. Then, Saturday night, I went to the bookstore and perused the poetry section. There was this self-published book poetry near the bottom where the poet had dots in every single line of every single poem. It visually gave me a headache. I think from now on, I'm going to watch my use of the dots.

  10. Thanks for the lesson, and the links! My scenes usually start out with dialogue too.

  11. Best advice: use in moderation. Nice post.

  12. I use both all the time (as you well know!). Congrats on only having 30 pages left!!! I think you can totally finish my Wednesday. You can do it!

  13. i can't believe you write all the dialogue in the scene first! That is so crazy to me (i always write in a linear, chronological fashion)

  14. I love both the em-dash and the ellipsis, but I agree that less is more. Just like italics if you have them too often on a single page it diminishes the power of each instance.

  15. I use ellipsis...way...too...often. Not too much in my writing, but when I type anywhere else, I just can't stop!

    Great post and congrats on getting so far on your revisions!

  16. Hey, there's an ellipsis at the end of each comment heading!

    Eric W. Trant said...

    I try not to use the ellipsis too much. I'd have to look back through my work to see if it's subliminal, but I don't consciously plug that thing in.

    I do use the dash, though, but not in dialogue. I use it for parenthetical thoughts, which occur randomly when my own ADD kicks in.

    For dialogue, I keep (or try to keep) the punctuation and flow simple, straight-forward, and untainted by little dots and dashes and exclamations and ALL CAPS and italics and such. The reader should hear all that without me marking up the page with distractions.

    - Eric

  17. I love ellipses and stammering with dashes.

  18. Ellipses hold a special place in my heart <3

  19. I use both. One of my crit partners said the ellipses is supposed to have spaces in between. So... should be So. . . when typing on Word. But I do use both a lot in my dialogue.

  20. My favorite puntuation mark--if I had to choose a favorite--is the em dash.

    Dialogue is full of stops and starts, pauses, stutters. The em dash is a great tool for cutting off someone's sentence when another character interrupts them.

    "Frank, what in the world are you doing with that bottle of alcoho--"

    "It's not alcohol, you ninny. It's ginger ale."

    I despise semicolons in fiction. They're ugly on the page. Sometimes when I'm reading a novel, the writer must have the same bias, because I see places where technically, there should be a semicolon, but they use a comma instead, just to not have any semis in the book.

    Nice blog you have!