View Full Version : Ellipsis: quick question

09-17-2006, 05:11 PM
Are there definite rules for the use of ellipsis? I've looked into it and seen suggestions that '. . .' is the standard while others say the spaces are not needed. I think the spaces make it look clearer but that's just my preference.

09-17-2006, 06:01 PM
As long as it makes sense for the reader to know what you mean, and you are consistent throughout your mss, you should be OK.

What's likely to happen is when you find a home for your book and an editor starts to run through it, they'll make an editorial decision (or suggestion) as to how it should look in the finished piece.

Just tell your story as clearly and effectively as you can and don't sweat the small stuff just yet. You'll find tons of small stuff when you start the editting process yourself.

09-17-2006, 06:04 PM
Gonna move this down to our Grammar forum. You'll get some great tips there...

09-17-2006, 06:16 PM
I don't have a grammar rule for this one, but I do have a related comment: keep them to a minimum. I get really annoyed when a major character is always trailing off, or hesitating.

I see it a lot in romance manuscripts, in particular, which may be why I'm so sensitive to the topic. A minor character who's a trailing-off wimp, I can live with, b/c I'm supposed to find him annoying and weak, but a protagonist or antagonist who's so weak he/she can't speak in firm sentences drives me up a wall. Unless, of course, it happens once or twice at moments of extreme distress, and then it's against a backdrop of usual competence. Just as long as it's not all the time.

Okay, I'll be quiet now. But it's a pet peeve of mine. Just cannot read stories where people are trailing off constantly. Makes me want to slap them upside the head and tell them to grow a backbone or a brain or SOMETHING.


09-17-2006, 06:43 PM
Thanks for the advice. I'm editing a piece now and taking out the pauses that don't fit. I may have overdone it but then this is the fun of a re-write.

Carrie in PA
09-17-2006, 09:53 PM
I love them. Adore them. I use them all the time when I post. Then it sort of signifies trailing off...

But in my real writing, I almost never use them. They technically stand for deleted text.

09-17-2006, 11:05 PM
Seun, if you're asking about how to type an ellipsis, I believe you're not supposed to add spaces between each period. Depending on what font you're using, the periods will look further apart.

Also, if you're using MS Word, I believe it's recommended to remove the AutoCorrect option for "..." otherwise MS Word will automatically replace a string of three periods with a single character meant to indicate the ellipsis but which might give some programs problems. Better to stick with three period characters.

Serena Casey
09-17-2006, 11:55 PM
I use them a lot, but usually to signify a pause in speech rather than trailing off or missing words. In real life, I think most of us pause often when we're talking, but I can't keep tagging the dialogue like that: "Blah blah blah." She paused. "Blah blah blah." She paused again. "Blah blah blah."

If there are good ways you guys know of to get around that, I'd love to hear them because as a newbie, I have a lot to learn about the "tricks of the trade"! I hate the overuse of ellipses, too; it's just that most of the time they seem to be the best way for me to show halting speech.

09-18-2006, 12:05 AM
Serena, have the characters do something rather than just saying they paused. Inserting action tags slows down the pace.

For example:

"Blah blah blah." She sipped from her coffee cup and set it down in the precise center of the saucer. "Blah blah." She reached for the container of sugar and emptied three packets into the cup. "Blah blah."

Not the best example, but hopefully you get the idea. Depending on the action you choose, the reader will have a sense of how much time has passed.

09-18-2006, 12:21 AM
Technically speaking the ellipsis should only mark trailing off or omitted words. Otherwise an em dash or comma is better. I know that isn't too intuitive but it does seem to be what editors want.

Serena Casey
09-18-2006, 12:22 AM
Thank you, TheIT. The hardest part, though, is the shorter pauses, when it's not long enough for the character to actually do something except to maybe shrug or wave a hand. If there are several of these short pauses in a paragraph of dialogue, all the little descriptions of action become distracting.

But I just looked through my manuscript, and I don't think I overused the ellipsis. I've read books where there are so many of them I feel like I'm riding in a car with a student driver learning to use the clutch! :)

09-18-2006, 01:07 AM
A full stop is as good a short pause as anything.

In a believable conversation, most folk will usually chip in with their own contribution if there's a pause from the other speaker.

If you have lots of pauses, make sure there's a good reason for the other speaker to hold their tongue in the silence.

09-18-2006, 02:04 AM
Ditto to the suggestions already made -- either no punctuation is needed besides a period, or use actions or internal thoughts (keep 'em brief) to create a real-time pause and explain why she would pause without having someone else speak.

But also keep in mind that dialogue in fiction does NOT perfectly copy real speech. Dialogue gives the impression of reality, but it's not even remotely close. Fiction is structured and intentional and coherent, even when it's dialect and slang. All you have to do is read a court transcript sometime (which I've been doing for the last several hours; ugh), and you'll know how incoherent we are in real life.

So, forget about the pauses in fiction unless you've got a really good reason for it, something more than because it's realistic. People also say "um" and "like" and assorted bad grammar and just generally make no literal sense frequently when they speak in real life, but we sort of put it together from context in the real world, but you can't count on body language or background props to explain what's going on in fiction, unless, of course, you describe that in the narrative.


09-18-2006, 03:10 AM
I would definitely turn off Word's auto-correct feature. It converts the three periods into a single-code character, which doesn't always come through depending on what software the editor's using.

I use them from time to time, and the one rule that helped me was to learn that the ellipsis is the three periods (...), which means that an ellipsis that finishes a sentence gets four -- the ellipsis and the period that finishes the sentence.

"I don't understand. . . ." Bob shook his head, unable to articulate his shock.

"I know . . . sucks, doesn't it?" Jack clapped Bob on the back as they watched the house burn. "I told you a dragon makes a lousy pet."

"But he was housetrained and everything!"

Serena Casey
09-18-2006, 04:41 AM
Thanks, Bufty and Jan, for your suggestions. It helps!