Tuesday, 12 July 2011

The Indispensable Death of the “dot-dot-dot”.

What to do with the insidious juxtaposition of unfinished... thought?

One of my first proofies came from a particular area of expertise I was writing about and he was quick to inform me about my use of the “...” saying, “You can’t use that when it’s not a juxtaposition.” Never mind he didn’t pay attention to the actual glaring errors I’d created in his line of work. He was too busy correcting my grammar.

I nodded sagely, thinking, What the heck is a juxtaposition? Happily I can inform that instalment of my writing life was light years ago (complete solar systems, in fact).

Wikipedia sayeth: Random juxtaposition refers to the stimulation of creativity in problem solving, design or other creative pursuit by confronting two unrelated concepts or objects, usually the goal or problem to be solved on the one hand and a randomly selected object or concept on the other. Similar to an oxymoron.

I have to admit that didn’t impress or help me much. Give it to me straight, Doc. I’m a plain sorta girl. I need layman’s terms. In my ignorance, what the proofie on this occasion was saying, was that my actual dialogue wasn’t doing what my punctuation indicated.

Really? It had seemed so straightforward to me (this is why writers should seek and employ proofies).

Skip ahead a teency bit, and we find the offending “...” is in fact called an ellipsis, and should be used sparingly indeed. Why? Because it is an annoying device to readers who think the writer was too lazy to construct a proper sentence.

Some writers use it to show a pause. Some use it to show information is being left out. Others employ it to convey a particular thought pattern or add drama. But what is the correct use of this beastie, and do editors like it? Can it be overused?

The quick answer is no and yes (in that order). One online English teacher says this (and it reminds me of much of what writers face with agents and publishers): “The conventions are different in different types of writing. None of us can really tell you "go ahead and use it" or "don't you dare use it" and be right or wrong. Keep in mind that the purpose of grammar and punctuation is to help language communicate ideas. Which punctuation mark best communicates the idea that you want to get across to the teacher? It also helps, when things are getting graded, to keep in mind the way your teacher grades. Many people have replied… with many different opinions. What do you think your teacher thinks? "Guess what's in the teacher's mind" is a very annoying game to play, but a very useful skill that will serve you well…”

Surely there has to be some kind of rule or standard, I thought. I searched some more and was led to arguments on the em-dash. Sheesh. The plot thickened.

I consulted A Dash of Style by Noah Lukeman and he says this: “In an amateur’s hands, though, ellipsis points can be a problem. Like italics, they can become a bad habit, a crutch to use whenever a writer doesn’t know how to firmly end a sentence or section or chapter, when he doesn’t know how to indicate a passing of time any other way. Worst of all, it can become a cheap device to end sections or chapters; some writers think that merely because they conclude with (...) it will force the reader to read on. This is silly. A reader doesn’t turn a page because of three dots; he turns a page because of content.” (p189)

Failing anything more concrete up to now, here are some informative sites to check out. If you are a literary person reading this, what say you? I’d love to know.

A Dash of Style by Noah Lukeman

Decide: Do you agree that less is more, and this device need not be copiously used? Can you grow your writing style to eclipse the ellipsis? Do you need to adjust some sentences in your MS and make the “...” work to your advantage instead of being your downfall?

“Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” 1 Timothy 4:15-16
Prends ces choses à cœur, consacre-toi à elles, afin que tout le monde soit frappé de tes progrès. Veille sur toi-même et sur ton enseignement. Sois persévérant en cela. En agissant ainsi, tu assureras ton salut et celui de tes auditeurs.

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