el·lip·sis – noun i-ˈlip-səs, e-
- a : the omission of one or more words that are obviously understood but that must be supplied to make a construction grammatically complete; b : a sudden leap from one topic to another
- : marks or a mark (as …) indicating an omission (as of words) or a pause
The above definition is taken from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary.
Since I’ve began to read indie author works, I’ve noticed that writers seem to be in love with these three little dots. So much so that they misuse them all the time. At first, I thought it was just one book or author but after ten plus books where 75% of them misuse the ellipsis, I feel the need to step in.
The main use of an ellipsis is to shorten a quotation or to show a trailing off in speech. Here is an example of each. For the quotation, let’s take a simple quote from Cicero:
Original – “A friend is, as it were, a second self.”
Ellipsisfied – “A friend is . . . a second self.”
Notice that is replaces an unnecessary portion of the quote. The addition of the ellipsis does not change the meaning of the quote. Now let’s use it to show a trailing off in speech or thought in dialogue.
“Fiddlesticks! Where did I leave those darn . . . ?”
But what about using an ellipsis to build tension? Even though it seems to be a widely used (and accepted) practice to use the ellipsis this way, I cannot find any book/site on writing styles that states that it should be used this way. But I’m not going to fight against the stream here. Language and grammar are ever changing creatures.
I tend to agree with the Writing Forward Blog which states:
“We can also use an ellipsis to indicate a pause or unfinished thought. At the end of a sentence, an ellipsis represents trailing off into silence.Using an ellipsis to represent a pause can get a writer into trouble.
We tend to pause a lot in speech. Pauses give us a moment to collect our thoughts or add emphasis to what we’re saying. But in writing, a page peppered with ellipses wreaks havoc on the eyes.The same applies to unfinished thoughts.
A lazy writer might use ellipses to indicate, “and so on,” or “et cetera.” In text messaging and social media, many people use ellipses where they believe the reader will implicitly understand what would be stated next. In professional-grade writing, we finish our thoughts, so ellipses used for this purpose should be rare.
However, when we are writing dialogue, an ellipsis can come in handy, especially if we want to show a character’s speech trailing off. Keep in mind, though, that ellipses, like exclamation points, should be used with caution and only when truly needed for emphasis. As a general rule, don’t use it unless you must.”
PLEASE, AUTHORS! I BEG OF YOU! When writing your novels, use ellipses sparingly! Also remember that ending a chapter in an ellipsis is redundant. The tension builder is already there. A well written story already has me thinking “Oh! I so need to read the next chapter to find out what happens to [insert character here]!”.
Here are three great resources for using ellipses:
- Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing
- Capital Community College’s Grammar Page (with handy drop down menu)
- Writing Forward’s Ellipsis Page