re: Making an Interruption FEEL Like an Interruption

posted 10/10/12

Dear Editor…

My critique group has a debate going on about how to punctuate dialogue when the speaker is interrupted versus when they let their words trail off. Can you clarify the correct punctuation?

Sue

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Dear Sue…

Last week’s presidential debate, tomorrow’s vice presidential debate, next week’s second presidential debate, your writing group’s punctuation debate . . . ‘tis the season for hashing out the big issues, isn’t it? And for writers, creating the perfect rhythm for your fictional conversations is a big issue. If you want a character’s words to trail off, use ellipses as I did above when I let my list of debates trail off. But for an interruption, the almighty em-dash can’t be beat. Think of that long line as a chop at the throat, a hand slicing through the air in a forceful cease-and-desist motion: “But I want—” “Enough. It’s not up for debate.” Did you feel that verbal karate chop? That’s a satisfying interruption.

Happy writing!
The Editor

P.S. For more on this topic, read Dialogue, Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar
posted by: The Editor
under: Dialogue, Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar
Comments to "re: Making an Interruption FEEL Like an Interruption" | Add a Comment
    1. Laura C. wrote (on 10/10/12 at 12:46 pm) :

      Ahh. A sigh of relief that I can show this post to people I crit who disagree with my corrections. Though I must admit, when to put a period at the end of an ellipsis or an em-dash still mystifies me.

      [Reply]

      The Editor replied (on 10/10/12 at 5:36 pm) :

      Laura, I can’t think of a situation for which you’d follow an em-dash with any punctuation. An em-dash is sentence-ending punctuation on its own. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding that part of your question. But I do understand the first part: You put a period BEFORE the ellipses when the sentence is complete. That period will be pressed up against the letters of the word preceding it. Example: I don’t think I can go. . . .

      [Reply]

    2. Rebekah Yami wrote (on 10/10/12 at 4:29 pm) :

      This has also been on my mind! Thank you!

      [Reply]

    3. The Editor wrote (on 10/10/12 at 5:37 pm) :

      Trish Fletcher just sent me this note: Our group has been debating this as well. Thank you for sending this. 2nd part to this question: ellipses: the debate is “one space or no spaces” between dots? I noticed you used a space(or at least it looked like it) in your example.

      Trish, use one space between ellipses dots. Your computer will try to format them as one unit, all smashed up against each other, but don’t let it. Type them in manually with a space between each one. Example: “As if . . .”

      If you need to add a period because the sentence preceding the ellipses is a complete sentence, then smash ONLY THAT PERIOD up against the letters. Example: “I don’t want to do this. . . .”

      For more on this topic, see my DearEditor.com post “re: How Many Dots for Ellipses?” at http://deareditor.com/?p=383

      [Reply]

    4. Constance Lombardo wrote (on 10/10/12 at 7:07 pm) :

      I love the way you make your point so clearly and concisely… I guess that’s why you’re an editor!

      [Reply]

      The Editor replied (on 10/10/12 at 8:06 pm) :

      Thanks, Constance. I really appreciate this feedback.

      [Reply]

    5. Jodie Shull wrote (on 10/11/12 at 2:55 pm) :

      For more fun and frolic with ellipses and em dashes, visit eFrogPress.com and check out the Grammar Patrol. Thanks for this important reminder about the purpose of punctuation in the first place!

      [Reply]

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