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  1. Nervous1st
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    Nervous1st Senior Member

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    Punctuating hesitant/broken dialogue

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Nervous1st, Mar 27, 2009.

    Could someone please help me correctly punctuate dialogue when the character is muttering, stumbling over their words or repeating themselves. I have read things like this a thousand times but for the life of me I can’t remember how it’s done. For example:

    “I- I don’t know what happened. One minute I was- and the next minute I totally freaked out. He’s- he’s gone.”

    “I…… I don’t know what happened. One minute I was…..and the next minute I totally freaked out. He’s….. he’s gone.”

    Also, can you use a full stop to emphasize words or pauses? Such as:

    “I…… I don’t know what happened. One minute I was…..and the next minute I totally freaked out. I screamed. Panicked. Freaked out.”

    Can someone please explain? Thanks
     
  2. crimsonrose
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    crimsonrose Senior Member

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    Personally, I would write it like this:

    "I... I don't know what happened. One minute I was- then the next minute I totally freaked out! He's... he's gone."

    The reason being, i imagine the character (whomever he or she may be) would pause in between the first two words ("I....I") in almost a daze, as well as in the part where they say "He's... he's gone." But when a sentence is interrupted because a character cannot form a full one, it is normally dashed. However, if the character said the sentences frantically, jumbled up and all at once, I suggest putting dashes between everything like in the first sentence.

    It doesn't matter really. What matters is how you imagine the character is saying the sentences. If they are in a daze and in shock, "..." is more appropriate. But if they are frantic and speaking quickly, stumbling over themselves "-" is more appropriate.

    I do hope that made sense :)
     
  3. crimsonrose
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    crimsonrose Senior Member

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    Also, I do the whole one word sentence thing all the time. It's just my writing style. Different authors do things different ways. As long as it's easy to read, it's fine.

    If you haven't noticed, half the books out there have One sentence paragraphs, whereas most students were taught in school that a paragraph must contain three sentences- no less. There are also sentences beginning with the word "But". This is also supposedly a grammatical no-no, but that doesn't stop people from doing it :)
     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    first, don't ever use more than one ellipsis [3 dots/periods]... when an ending period is needed, that can be added to ...

    here is an example of the correct way to do this:

    here's one pretty clear rundown on the uses of em dashes and ellipses:
    http://news.deviantart.com/article/55110/

    hope this helps... love and hugs, maia
     
  5. Sound of Silence
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    Sound of Silence Member

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    For how you're using them...

    your '...' suggests a long pause 'So... Erm... What we doing, then?' (Great if you want to show indecision.)
    your '-' gives a fast and abrupt end to the word: 'I lo-' James cursed as Sam bumped into him. 'I said I loved you, Sam.' (Better for speech that is immediately broken up)
     
  6. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    I think the correct one to use here is

    "I...I don't know what happened. One minute I was...and the next minute I totally freaked out. He's...he's gone."

    I don't know who exactly is gone, therefore the screaming and panicking doesn't quite make sense to me. When you use ellipsis, you have to remember it's three dots when it's a continuation of a sentence and three dots only. You only use four dots when you're transitioning from the middle of a sentence to the beginning (i.e. from the phrase "It was a city, a city built from the litter of the sea. The street beneath her feet was made from timbers that had clearly been in the water for a long time, and the walls were lined with barnacle-encrusted stone (Clive Barker)", the proper use of a four-dot ellipsis would be 'It was a city....The street beneath her feet...(etc).' )

    You could do what maia suggested and put a phrase between "One minute I was-" where he breaks off, unable to continue and gathers his ability to speak before continuing "and the next..."

    Personally, I don't really like that method because to me it makes the sentence too choppy (just a preference). Just figured I'd add my take on this for you. :)
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    a hyphen is never used as a pause... if you meant that hyphen to be an em dash, you have to use two... like--this...

    and it only signals broken-off speech due to being interrupted, or the speaker not being able to continue due to emotion...
     
  8. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    Lol mammamaia, I realize I get a bit lazy on the punctuation in forums--I do know how to properly use the em dash...I just choose not to a little too often. :p
     
  9. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    I have seen hyphens used for s-stuttering in novels. The em-dash would be i-im-improper there, right?

    Also, I don't know if it was pointed out, but there should be a space on both sides of an ellipsis.
     
  10. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    Good point. An ellipsis should have spaces ... but very few people use them properly :p
     
  11. Nervous1st
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    Nervous1st Senior Member

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    Thank you very much for replying.

    Maia - Thanks for posting the link which I found very helpful.
     
  12. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    right...

    that's still debatable, with both schools of thought claiming correctness... which makes it entirely optional, as long as you're consistent... i find the no-space version to be most prevalent and it's my own personal choice, as i think it looks better and makes better sense, since the em dash also has no space fore or aft...
     
  13. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    I'm not going to explain it in an 'orthodox' manner as might some of the others, but more in a manner that I have found looks good and have seen used in other works of literature:

    "I, I don't know what happened. . . . One minute, I was. . . and the next minute-- I totally freaked out. He's-- he's gone."


    Using a comma to have someone say the same word twice is useful and can break the monotony of using a hyphen, dash, or ellipsis.

    By the way, proper use of ellipsis:

    Three dots if you are going to continue the sentence:

    I. . . just don't know.

    Four dots if it's the end of the sentence:

    I just don't know. . . .

    There should be a space between each point.
     
  14. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Interesting. I didn't know there were two schools of thought on it. The em-dash comparison is logical. I'm going to start looking through novels now :D
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The no-space version is on the rise. In fact, there is also a single character ellipsis in Unicode, and three periods together (without spaces) typically autocorrects to it in Word.
     
  16. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    cog, I've noticed that in Word. I can't remember what the keyboard shortcut is, but when you do the ellipsis that way there are no spaces between the periods.
     
  17. Sound of Silence
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    Sound of Silence Member

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    Hi, mammammia. Nice to meet you.;) If I remember rightly from Grammar school, British-English emdashes use the one (-), American-English uses the two (--). Or something like that. :)
     
  18. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sos... i seriously doubt british rules would countenance using a hyphen as an em dash, since it's much shorter than the real em dash and doing so would confuse matters when a real hyphen is called for...

    the reason a double hyphen is used to indicate an em dash is because typewriters didn't have a key for it and neither do computer keyboards, though it is available in the computer symbols menu and with using a shortcut... that said, many publishers still prefer the double hyphen 'signal' because it can't be mistaken for a hyphen when the ms goes to the printer...
     
  19. Sound of Silence
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    Sound of Silence Member

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    We mainly use ( - ). It's rare for us to see (--). The differences do my head in at times. Here, cop this for an explanation from:

    http://fixedreference.org/en/20040424/wikipedia/Dash_(punctuation)

     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    -- is a manuscript convention that dates back to the days of typewriters. If you type -- in Microsoft Word, it will put an actual em-dash in your text. A publisher will convert duble hyphen to an em-dash when typesetting the writing.

    A single hyphen in a manuscript is either left as is or treated as an en-dash, depending on context. That case (hyphen vs. en-dash) is probably too finicky for a writer to worry about.
     
  21. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Ultimately, the punctuation convention of the publisher and/or literary agent will determine which method is "right" for your story when the manuscript is converted to print copy. Like mammamaia says, there are appropriate places for both the em-dash and the ellipsis. Pay attention to those guidelines.

    As far as which "style" of each punctuation you choose (...) ( . . . ) (--) or (long version of em-dash) for your manuscript, I would suggest you determine which you are most comfortable using and make sure that format is consistent throughout your manuscript.

    Also, don't use either the em-dash or ellipsis to end a complete sentence; only where there are breaks in the dialog. Hesitation in dialog is like showing an accent or regional speech pattern -- it can be overdone. Only use enough accent, speech pattern or, in this case, hesitation to let the reader get a feel for the scene.
     
  22. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you'll notice in the british ruling that there's a space fore and aft of the hyphen, which makes it somewhat distinguishable from a purposeful hyphen, i suppose... but if not done carefully, could be confusing...
     

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