Punctuation is an aspect of English with which many writers struggle. But we must face the reality: incorrect punctuation raises a red flag for editors and makes them more inclined to toss your submission into the trash.
I’m not talking about a missing comma here and there, but flagrant incorrect punctuation. As much as some might hate it, correct punctuation is critically important to your submission.
So today, let’s take a look at the ellipsis and the em dash—two punctuation marks that get misused and often over used.
The ellipsis (three spaced periods . . . ) indicates in dialog that the speaker hasn’t finished his or her words, or shows a pause in the dialog.
“I’m not . . . I don’t . . . ,” Mark stammered to his friend. “What if she says . . . no to my marriage proposal?”
An ellipsis is also used to show that one or more words have been omitted from a direct quote.
The mayor said that “the working citizens . . . lose 37% of their paycheck to taxes.” In this example, the ellipsis indicates the mayor spoke something more in between “citizens” and “lose” that was irrelevant to the quoter’s purpose. Never omit words that will change the meaning of the source being cited.
The Em Dash
The em dash indicates a dramatic shift in tone or thought within a sentence.
This dash is so named because it is about the same width as the letter “m.” You create it by using two dashes together without any space between. Word processing programs will often autoformat it for you so it appears as one long dash as it should.
His marriage proposal—would she say no?—got caught in his throat before he began.
When used in pairs, the portion set off by the em dash gets the most emphasis. In other words, it stands out as the most important part of the sentence.
The em dash can also be used in as a single dash. His marriage proposal got caught in his throat before he began—would she say no?
Use the em dash in dialog when you want to indicate an interruption.
“Of course she’ll—”
“Say yes,” John finished Mickey’s sentence.
Writer’s Digest Grammar Desk Reference states the em dash “is the most dramatic punctuation mark you can deploy within the interior of a sentence. Use it sparingly.”
If you’re weak in punctuation, find a good reference book to use in your editing process because the better your punctuation, the more likely the editor will notice your wonderful story instead of your poor punctuation.
What punctuation mark gives you fits, the one you just can’t seem to master? Post your response in the comments section and I can either answer your question now or address your question in a future blog post.