Thursday, May 29, 2008

Can you make your character(s) seem dumb?

Recently, I went through the trial by fire also known as "edits" with a fabulous editor on staff at Enspiren Press. In the period while we worked together, I learned my publisher would allow only a few instances of the em-dash or ellipsis. This was something that bothered me because I discovered I am ellipsis-challenged. My book was full of them.

My publisher prefers not to allow many uses of them because it can make your character seem dumb. What? Yes, that's right. Or at the very least, make them seem ignorant of facts.

Think about it. If you were talking to someone and they constantly trailed off a sentence, what would you think? You'd think they didn't know the answer, or they were hiding something.

But they are useful when used properly, and when used minimally.

Here from is a pretty decent description of what these little dots are supposed to be for:

The ellipsis is a series of three — and only three — full stops used to mark missing words, an uncertain pause or an abrupt interruption. For example:

The review said, "It's wonderful ... a complete triumph".

Niles: But Miss Fine's age is only ...
Fran: Young! Miss Fine's age is only young!

Most editors precede the ellipsis by a space, even at the end of a sentence.

Note: Within Microsoft Word the ellipsis can be typed as a single character, rather than three separate periods, by typing Alt-Ctrl-period.


Marta Stephens said...

I learned something new today! Didn’t know about the Alt-Ctrl-period. Thanks! As a result I did some digging and found out you can do the same thing with an Em dash; Alt-Ctrl plus the hyphen on the number pad.

I don’t use the ellipsis as much as I have the tendency to over use the Em dash. Most of those get tossed during the edits too. If I use the ellipsis, it’s in the middle of the sentence to show a pause or omitted text.

The em dash have the function of showing emphasis or a change in tone in the middle of a sentence: “Don’t be late for an audition – ever!”

Use the em dash at the end of a sentence to show and abrupt interruption such as in your example.

s.w. vaughn said...

Ooh, a new shortcut! And a great reminder on overuse of a potentially powerful literary device.

(I'm afraid I have ellipsitis too ... see? Can't even type a comment without them ... LOL)

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Interesting article, Kim. I find that each time I am assigned a new editor I learn something - and it's great! Thanks for the shortcuts. I used to know them but lost them long ago. ;o)