Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Elusive Ellipses

Since I write quite a bit of my books from the first person POV, I often like to indicate a pause or uncertainty in my heroine's thoughts or words. And to do this, I've been using an ellipsis. The little dot-dot-dots that also find themselves in my own emails rather frequently, as I write emails in a stream of consciousness.

According to Grammar Girl, "A number of style guides note that ellipses can be used to indicate a pause or falter in dialog, the passage of time, an unfinished list, or that a speaker has trailed off in the middle of a sentence or left something unsaid. For example, The Chicago Manual of Style states, “Ellipsis points suggest faltering or fragmented speech accompanied by confusion, insecurity, distress, or uncertainty.” The manual contrasts ellipses and dashes, which it states should be reserved for more confident and decisive pauses.

She goes on to say that ellipses are used much too frequently, and that normal punctuation should apply most of the time. (I was hoping for a percentage...like you shouldn't use passive voice more than around 10% of the time.)

So, on to how to format an ellipsis. Grammar Girl specifies that you have only three dots, with spaces between the dots and spaces before and after the first and last dots. But she says this is only when omitting words. So what about when the speaker or thinker just loses his train of thought? Or is unsure?

I don't know! I've been doing it like this . . . and then going on with the rest of the thought. Or course, most word processing programs make automatic spaces between three consecutively typed periods. But I had a crit member say that that only was used to represent omitted words. When I researched ellipses, I found this website, and the ellipses are definitely spaced out further than "average."

I'm going to stick with whatever the Chicago Manual of Style says, once I figure out what that is. The CMS Online costs $30/year to subscribe to. And to buy the book from Amazon it's $34.65 and comes with free shipping....what to do?

3 comments:

gecampbell said...

Actually, the ellipsis is a single character when typeset (or using a computer). It's composed of three small dots when a specific separation defined by the type designer. It is NOT created using periods. If you use MS Word, it will auto-correct three periods (...) and replace it with an ellipsis, which is a single character.

They are overused a lot, however, and do indicate a gap in time or substance (for example, if you're studying a page ripped out of a book, the first line might be "...andied walnuts" indicating that some letters are missing.

Note that, if the omission occurs at the end of the sentence, the convention is an ellipsis followed by a period, or four points in sequence.

In HTML, you might be able to use … for ellipsis:

Testing the … ellipsis

gecampbell said...

BTW, you should also check out http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellipsis

It includes comments from typographers that the Chicago style ellipsis are "much too wide."

Jeannie Campbell said...

thanks glen...i'll definitely check out that website. :)