Sunday, September 30, 2012

Ellipses...A Dirty Friend

Ellipses, you know, those dot-to-dots...

They are my friend.

Recently, while editing my latest WIP, I nixed a whole kit and kaboodle of these dots. Even I realized I overkilled with ellipses. Better for me to take care of this blunder now than wait for my editor to remind me again that ellipses are not my friend.

So, I guess the question is, when and how should ellipses be used? Simply put, because we have become text and social networking addicts, people use these dot-to-dots to show informal speech, or rather, a pause. In formal writing, and the appropriate usage, it's to show omitted words from a sentence. For instance, if someone said to me, "I want to run away and live wild. I want to read romance novels and play in the sand and ocean everyday," and I wanted to shorten the quote, I could write, "I want to run away and live wild...I want to play in the ocean everyday." Make sense?

With that bit of grammar how-to, journalism and book writing are different. In writing a book a writer doesn't want to leave anything out. Readers want words and description, not dots. After all, I've been told at least a dozen times by editors, "Don't leave anything to the reader's imagination. Fill in each and every blank." We should be careful not to use ... implying that a character has more to say when in reality they don't.

I've also noticed that people use dot-to-dot to show distress or uncertainty. I see it a lot in email messages. Or a trailing of thought, which is okay.

Using dot-to-dot is okay, but as every editor will tell you, use them sparingly otherwise it becomes annoying. With that being said, remember to use them correctly. An ellipses is three dots. Never two. Never four. Only three. That's probably the most important lesson here...


  1. Hi, I'm Holly. I'm an ellipsis addict, and I am trying to break the habit.

    I have even invented a new use, of sorts, for ellipses - as a stand in to imply that I'm simply not going to write out the rest of the statement. Not that there's a trailing, driveling bit of thought stuck in my head or more I might say, if only the right words would magically pop into my head, but as a stand-in for, "You're a smart cookie - you tell ME what comes next. It's probably too incendiary to state it explicitly."

    What can I say? It's an election year.

  2. Hi, Holly. Nice to meet another addict ;)) I'm getting better at catching those dirty dots when inappropriately used, which is a lot of the time.

    Yup, it's an election year ;))) I still love the dot-to-dots and will continue to use them.

  3. Actually, it is 3 in the middle of a sentence, with space on either side, and 4 at the end to accommodate the period at the end of the sentence.

    And if you have a really really long pause in a sentence you can say: "... and they ... ... the end."
    (But the suspense there would be cruel.)

    Then there is Captain Kirk: "Must... Speak... Each... Word... as... if... it... was... its... own... sentence...."

    We'll try avoid that.