Helpful Punctuation

Over the years of trying to help aspiring writers, one of the first suggestions is for them to acquire a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style—the “Bible” for writing and publishing since 1906. (The_Chicago_Manual_of_Style). Those who do not use it will head-butt with real editors or agents. Not good.

That said, I find it distressing that some editors at major publishing houses are not doing their job and letting some style things slip through. (Not to mention spelling and grammar errors.) In defense of being a fussy nitpicker, the object of a writer is to present a smooth ride for the reader as they make their way through a tangled plot. In this regards, from time to time, I will present some of the guidance found in the Chicago Manual, starting with “Ellipses.”

You say what?


Ellipses seem to be a nearly unknown technique extremely useful in speech. In reality, people do not always speak with the fluidity of politicians and lawyers, or as if reading from a prepared manuscript. People stammer, stutter, pause, hiccup, or trail off into Never, Never land. This is what the Chicago Manual says: (Chapter 11, Quotations and Dialogue, 11.51)

“An ellipsis [is] the omission of a word, phrase, line, paragraph, or more from a quoted passage . . . indicated by ellipsis points (or dots), not by asterisks. Ellipsis points are three spaced periods ( . . . ), sometimes preceded or followed by punctuation. They must always appear together on the same line, but any preceding punctuation may appear at the end of the live above.” (p. 458, 15th Edition) The Manual goes on to explain in detail with examples for the next six pages. So, how would their use look?

“Okay,” he warned. She didn’t respond. Appearing in greater agony, he again warned, “Mike, I’m . . .” She didn’t allow him to finished.

“I thought you said you’d get a tattoo on your . . . ,” Ryan teased.

“You want me to . . . ?” He continued to insist.

Another punctuation which is seldom used is the em dash,

not to be confused with a hyphen. (See Chapter 6, Punctuation, 6.87-6.96). This handy tool can be used to indicate “a sudden break in thought, or sentence structure, or an interruption in dialogue. (Ellipsis points may also serve this purpose; see 11.45.)”

The next target on his list was intriguing—long, black hair, heavy on the black eye liner, jeans, shirt, and boots like a man.

He’d never had trouble with the law personally, well maybe once—he didn’t start the fight—but the mere sight of a cop triggered panic thanks to other issues.

Here is a good example from the Manual of using it in dialogue:

“Someday he’s going to hit one of those long shots, and”—his voice turned huffy—“I won’t be there to see it.” (Chicago Manual, 15th edition, p. 254)

As you see, these two punctuations can be very useful and add a little realism to your story.

Last point. The current edition of the Manual is the 16th Edition. I have used the 15th Edition for this post, which is at my elbow. On the bookshelf, just out of reach, is a 14th Edition. When it comes to formatting a manuscript, very little has changed, so you can save $$.

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