Saturday, September 1, 2012
"Just because your notebook or computer screen will accept anything doesn't mean your readers will." --Paul Raymond Martin, GETTING PUBLISHED
Reading is more than looking at a word and hearing the sound of it in your mind. Writing to be understood, to share an idea, or to create an image relies on how the words are strung together in sentences and, in particular, on the use of punctuation. It's said that punctuation marks are the road signs that help the reader perceive, understand, and make sense of what is written.
One of the most misunderstood and misused punctuation marks is the ellipses—those three dots that are especially useful in dialogue (and dialogue includes both the spoken word and internalizations, which are actual thoughts of a character.
Obviously peppering a page with ellipses is to be avoided because their effect is diminished or their effect is to make a character seem unbelievable. However, what's vital to remember is this: ellipses in genre fiction means only one thing, to trail off.
In other words, when a character is talking or thinking or doing the narrating, their sentences or thoughts will likely, at certain points, dribble down to nothing, thus that "voice" the reader hears in their mind will trail off and that's the right place to insert an ellipses.
One other way the ellipses is helpful in fiction writing is to "show" a character's timidity or shyness. Some of the young heroines of author Barbara Cortland were effectively portrayed because of the use of ellipses.
Another way to think of the use of ellipses is to remember the ellipses, like all punctuation marks, has a specific "pause of silence" which a reader employs in order to comprehend the meaning and emotional aspect of a sentence or sentence fragment. For example, the following punctuation marks change the way the word is "heard" and the meaning (thus showing):
To make dialogue passages sound more realistic means making one pass during the manuscript's final polishing stage to verify that all ellipses being used actually do mean "to trail off." Your readers will appreciate that. So, add an ellipses check onto your revision to do list–you do have a revision "cheat sheet," don't you?
Stop back on October 1 for a few words on Dashes.
# # #