Dashing Dashes

I recently mentioned the use of ellipses. Used in dialogue sometimes they are erroneously used in place of what should actually be a dash.

What’s the difference? Good question.

Ellipses… are three consecutive dots that generally indicate words, sentences or entire sections are being left out.

Dashes – indicate dialogue, speech or something is being interrupted or cut off. A dash is the punctuation. No periods, question marks or exclamation points are used.

Example time:

The tone is set by punctuation.

Dale crossed his arms and scowled. “I don’t think…”

“No you don’t think Dale. That’s the entire problem.” Scott waived his hand dismissively at Dale. 

In that example, Dale comes across unsure or hesitant. That is not the tone I want to portray. Let me try again with a dash.

Dale crossed his arms and scowled. “I don’t think-”

“No you don’t think Dale. That’s the entire problem.” Scott waived his hand dismissively at Dale. 

I wanted Scott to cut Dale off rudely. Scott is slipping and I want his rude factor to go up. With Ellipses, Scott was just mean-ish. With a dash, he was both rude and mean.

In some circumstances, I’ll make the cut off more obvious.

Amber handed Rachael the printout. “I need you to go down to-”
Rachael flicked her hand cutting Amber off. “I know where to take it.” She snatched the paper from Amber’s hand.

I just love making mean people mean. In Rachael’s case she has just cause to dislike Amber and be short with her. Both Amber and Rachael’s lifestyles, attitudes and personalities conflict. Not all cut off’s are a personality flaw, in this moment Rachael is annoyed with Amber, she’s not usually rude in this manner.

Some programs such as *Word or *Microsoft Office don’t allow dashes in dialogue. When this happens I leave the punctuation out, cap it off with the quotation mark and manually go back to add the dash.

“I think we should-“  “ mark is curled the wrong way!  Ugh. Word automatically does this and it drives me bonkers. I go back and fix it manually.
“I think we should”   “I think we should-”

Maybe I’m missing a setting or something, maybe not. I’ll probably end up looking into it. While this manual fix is not efficient, it works for me. Like with all good things I would probably pick one character that might lean on this rude behavior as a quirk. A foreshadow of their true selves. Arguments are a good place to use them or for a character to make a point by cutting someone off.

My advice about Dashes.
They are an abrupt interruption not a trailing off. Be careful who you have rudely interrupting conversation. Too much might make everyone come across as a jerk.

-Sheryl

Other  posts

The jerk-face warrior

Glance back to look forward

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7 thoughts on “Dashing Dashes

  1. I know, right?! It’s annoying having to go back and fix, because I don’t always notice, that’s my eye situation but I’m glad you mentioned this because it jogged my memory about taking a second look and fixing an annoyance. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I am a user and abuser of the em-dash—sometimes in dialogue, sometimes like this—and I think dashes are just the best. LOL

    Seriously though, nice little post. Interrupted dialogue is a powerful tool. 🙂

    Regarding your Word dash problem, try typing — and seeing if Word with transform it to a —, which may alleviate your problem. Typically works for me.

    Liked by 1 person

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