Eclipses of Ellipses…

One of my favorite ‘fun to read’ authors uses dashes and ellipses spot on. She’s the one I emulate when I think of writing dialogue and structuring it correctly.

When we speak we pause, break, hum and haw, um and ah and very often we trail off just before or even at the end of a sentence.  Dialogue would be stiff and dull if we didn’t include these verbal patterns or quirks. When it comes to characters and how they speak I am careful to make sure they are different in some way. None of my characters are identical, sometimes they become similar but not identical. It’s important to know how to give them particular speech mannerisms in written word.

For today’s topic, I’m talking about the habit or event of trailing off during or at the end of a sentence. Different than a pause it’s more like a hesitant break or hesitant ending. To express this in writing we use Ellipses.

So what are Ellipses they and how do I use them?

Ellipses… Three (Yes only three and always three) consecutive dots that generally indicate words, sentences or entire sections are being left out. Three dots with no spaces between the last letter of the word, nor in-between them.

When used in dialogue it’s as if someone is lost in thought, thinking, about to Eureka, disheartened, forgetful, afraid to finish, hinting at the suggestion and so on. They are trailing off…

“That sounds…” Amber grimaced and shook her head gently.


“Hey Dale, I wanted to ask you…” Amber looked away a flush rising to her cheeks.

Ellipses are great for characters that don’t know how to finish a sentence, don’t want to or don’t know how to. I probably use these too much. There is a point in my revision process where I will plunk the three consecutive dots into the ‘find’ feature of *word and seek-and-destroy any superfluous ellipses. I would hate for my readers to be bogged down by what I call Eclipses of ellipses… Too many too often.  I have been known to use this manner of ‘speaking’ as a particular quirk of a character. If I do that, I avoid other characters trailing off or fading out as they talk.

Outside of dialogue, in the narrative, ellipses are also used to suggest time is about to pass but isn’t quite worthy of page time. This used to omit a section of time that needs to be pointed out but not actually addressed in the story. I don’t actually use this form in my writing often.

Amber walked swiftly out of the office. Tomorrow would be a better day, but for now, she would go home and think about what happened and what she could do about it…

I have seen authors use these omission ellipses to re-introduce back from the omitted section. This is not something I would do often, if at all.

Amber walked swiftly out of the office. Tomorrow would be a better day, but for now, she would go home and think about what happened and what she could do about it…

… The walk to work was brisk. With a resolution to her predicament, Amber’s heels clicked with confidence. (The paragraph would continue on from here.)

I would probably use a chapter break instead of ellipses in this fashion unless there wasn’t enough content to warrant it. For the most part, I use ellipses in dialogue or to end a suggestive bit of narrative. Perhaps a cliff-hanger.

My advice about Ellipses.
If used properly they can… bring a certain tone or voice to a character or situation. As with all things, too much of a good thing…


Other punctuation posts

Unidentified Fervent Outburst!

Running off with Run-on’s

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