Punctuation: Ellipsis

The first in an occasional series in which Dr Gapper examines a punctuation mark in the vain hope that he will stop sticking them everywhere in his writing.  Plus, if ‘Punctuation: Ellipsis’ doesn’t get people flocking to this blog, what will?

For clarity, the ellipsis is this little fella…

When I did a recent proof check of my last novel I found 197 ellipses.  How does anyone get 197 x three dots into such a small space?  It was mainly in dialogue.  People trailing off…  There’s a lot of that.  So I stopped them doing so.

The second thing was that I was using them where a character did something while speaking, eg ‘I was going to put another ellipsis in this paragraph…’ Jim wafted an artistic hand into the air ‘…but then I decided not to.’  I was so shocked by the number of them in my novel that I looked ellipsis up online and found that this could be handled with a comma.  For example, ‘I wonder sometimes if I should use such flamboyant gestures,’ Jim raised the other hand up to meet the first, ‘people might think I looked foolish.’

The third change was to stop using them when people were being interrupted.  Eg:

‘You look like an idiot, Jim.  Could I su…’

‘Don’t tell me what to do!’  Unable to gesture with his arms, Jim nodded furiously at his friend. 

Apparently, interruptions are indicated with a dash.

‘I’m not, Jim.  I just thou–‘

‘Did you?  I’m going out!’ Jim stormed out through open doorway, knocking his wrists against the top of the frame. 

I realise I lost a lot of people in the first paragraph.  But if you have stuck with me, all of this editing meant that I got the ellipsis count down from 197 to 40.  Which is still a lot, but not as many as there were.

In the next episode, Dr Gapper tackles the comma.  Like, what’s it doing following ‘episode’ in that last sentence, or after ‘Like’ in this one?  I also take requests.

Tight lines.


4 thoughts on “Punctuation: Ellipsis

  1. Interesting that a dash is used for interruptions. I do what you did and probably still will but then maybe I don’t let my characters be interrupted quite so much, especially the women! Now, I use too many exclaimation marks and I’m not sure even how the word is spelt.

    As for commas and your final example, using ‘like’ at the beginning of a sentence must, surely, be contemporary slang, which you might use orally but would only use in prose if you were writing conversation. Wouldn’t you? So no ules there then.

    Jane Hayward

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