Monday, July 4, 2011

Ellipses Are Like Cajun Spice…

I know what you’re thinking, Really? Cajun spice?, but just read; I’ll explain. First, as a refresher (or introduction for some of you) let me give a mini-lesson on the convenient but contaminating punctuation.

An ellipsis (the plural is ellipses) is a row of three full stops (AKA periods) with no additional spaces between them. In dialogue, it’s normally used to show a speech that trails off or to show hesitation.

Here’s how to correctly use the ellipsis:

 ~Using the ellipsis to show the thought trails off, when the sentence is incomplete: End with a blank, then the three dots, the quote, a blank.  “I, I, I . . ." Max stuttered.

 ~A non-quote new sentence follows: Capitalize the new sentence. “Still she’s irresponsible, and that temper of hers . . ." Not to mention the tetchy arrogance.

 ~A new paragraph follows: “I don’t know what to say, Jaime. He’s your cousin, not mine. I’ve no right to tell them. But maybe . . ."

 ~Using the ellipses within quotes when the sentence is complete: A new sentence within the same quote follows. Note there is a period before the three dots. “They have my grandfather’s gun, and Pops never let that out of his possession. . . . They killed my grandfather in the woods."

 ~The quote sentence is complete and is followed by a new non-quote sentence: “And Janie even took me on a sailboat. . . ." Suddenly, the girl stopped as if realizing she had an audience.

Okay, so here it is. The explanation to my rather strange analogy: A little Cajun spice goes a long way.
That’s it. Really.

True the ellipsis is a handy tool that when used sparsely can spice up your manuscript, make your characters more convincing and lifelike, but some people (cough— cough—editors) view the use of the ellipsis as a sign of author laziness. Don’t believe me? Go here and read an editor’s rant for yourself.

So maybe, just maybe, when you’re weeding through your manuscript for things like filter words and over-used phrases, take note of how many times you've used the ellipsis. And then take away half of them.

For fun, we want to hear how many ellipses you have in your current WIP. Post your word count and how many ellipses you have polluting it. NO SHAME HERE…


  1. I'll go first--

    in my current WIP of 29k, I have 5 ellipses. Not too bad, I was actually expecting a lot more than that.

    Your turn!

  2. Gah! In my 81K manuscript I have 39 ellipses. Wow...I didn't realize. Thanks for making me look. I will have to fix those in my next round of revisions (if my agent doesn't nail me on it first!).

  3. I agree with Carol, thanks, Nicole, for pointing this out. I never paid attention to how much I used ellipses!

    A little embarrassed, but in my 68k wip I have 27 of them. AHHH, time to start editing!

  4. 17 ellipses in 54k...oh man. Thanks for mentioning this before I start querying agents.

  5. I love the analogy to cajun spice. It's quite apt. I try to use them as little as possible (for which I blame my crit partner--in the nicest way possible, of course). For a few of your examples, I'll do other things to show the pause, like as some kind of gesture between two complete lines of dialogue.

    It looks like I have about 30 in 78K. In looking, I already got rid of one, and there are a couple more I could stand to change. Thanks!

    East for Green Eyes