In today’s article I’m going to look at the use of ellipses […] and dashes [-/–/—] in fiction writing.
An ellipsis is a glyph made up of three full points … which is used to indicate omitted words, pauses in speech, and unfinished thoughts/sentences. If you type three full points without spaces, most word processing programmes will autocorrect them to a single glyph.
When used in sentences, the ellipsis has a space on either side and no other punctuation is needed:
‘I tried … I really tried.
‘I was under the impression … didn’t you start that last week?’
When used to indicate unfinished thoughts or at the end of a sentence, no spaces are required in front of the ellipsis:
‘I could have sworn I…‘
Or to build tension:
The door opened slowly…
When a sentence should end with an exclamation or question mark, they are included at the end of the ellipsis:
‘Didn’t you just ask for one…?‘
She couldn’t even reach the top…!
A comma isn’t required before or after an ellipsis.
An ellipsis can also be used in place of etc. when the reader is expected to infer to rest of a sequence or list:
We needed lots of vegetables; potatoes, leeks, carrots, onions…
There are three dashes in the punctuation world, the hyphen [-], the en dash [–] (so named as it’s typically the same width of the letter ‘n’), and the em dash [—] (so named as it’s typically the same width of the letter ‘m’).
The hyphen is typically used in compound words, numbers, prefixes, and suffixes:
The north-westerly wind was strong today.
My mother-in-law is a nightmare!
If the compound words precede the noun, they are hyphenated:
I have the up-to-date records.
But not if the noun appears first:
The records are up to date.
Nor if the first word of the compound is an adverb:
The newly married couple not the newly-married couple.
When spelling out numbers:
It was her twenty-first birthday.
Prefixes when there is a risk of collision of letters:
I needed to re-enter the room.
Her number is ex-directory.
Suffixes when the word already ends in double l:
She found a shell-like rock on the beach.
Most British publishers use the en dash in place of the brackets () and a space is required on each side:
We were travelling – in the clapped out car – all night.
And they’re used to show action during dialogue:
‘I can’t believe he‘ – she nodded at Jim – ‘came tonight!’
Most British publishers use the em dash to indicate interrupted dialogue:
‘I said I wanted to g—‘
‘I don’t care what you said!’ He interrupted.
I do hope these tips help you with your writing!
Have a great day x