1. marcusl
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    marcusl Member

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    The dash

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by marcusl, Nov 14, 2009.

    Recently, I made a post asking whether people liked to use semicolons in their writing. Many people said they don't enjoy using the semicolon in fiction, which is fair enough.

    Now, I was reading The Little Green Grammar Book the other day. It mentions that the dash is nice because it's more subtle than the semicolon, and it's nice to use in dialogue to signify pauses. I just wanted to hear you guys' opinions on this. Thanks heaps.
     
  2. hoodwinked
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    hoodwinked Member

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    I've never really thought about how I use my punctuation when I write... though I probably should. Personally, I don't think I use the dash too often in fiction unless it's in dialogue, unless the narrator has an informal tone. But that's just me, and like I said, I haven't before paid much attention to it.

    I don't use the dash too often in formal writing, like research papers and essays either, unless the essay is in first person. At least, that's how I think I do it.

    Is the Little Green Grammar Book good to read?
     
  3. garmar69
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    garmar69 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I generally use the em dash to make a sentence end abruptly because of an interruption or some emotional factor. Also to indicate a quick change in direction of information. Like when you're speaking to someone and a new thought occurs to you mid-sentence and you speak it, then go back and finish what you were saying.

    I think some writers prefer to use it in place of a semi-colon. Stephen King comes to mind as an author that does this a lot.
     
  4. hoodwinked
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    hoodwinked Member

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    I think, for most characters, it would be odd to put a semi-colon in their dialogue. Personally, when I talk, I don't think of my sentences as having semi-colons. But I do dashes. Not that I write out in my head my own speaking.
     
  5. marcusl
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    marcusl Member

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    Thanks for the replies.

    I learned a lot from The Little Green Grammar Book, so I'd say it's a good read.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    my standard response to seeing semicolons in fiction is:

    my bottom line?... the em dash [not the en] works well in fiction, if not overused...
     
  7. hoodwinked
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    hoodwinked Member

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    Em dash? En dash?!
     
  8. bluebell80
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    bluebell80 Contributing Member

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    What my creative writing teacher told me has always stuck concerning using em dash and ellipsis in dialog or in action: The em dash signifies an abrupt change or interruption. The ellipsis signifies and soft trailing off of a thought, as if someone's mind has wondered gently off onto something else.

    I know that's how I use them. I usually only use ellipsis in direct character thoughts or dialog, never in general narrative. Em dash can be used in both thought, dialog, and narrative action sequences, though should be used in narrative very, very sparingly.
     
  9. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like using the em dash in dialogue, because people rarely speak in formally constructed sentences, but often use short sentences strung together. An example:

    "I told you I don't know."

    Sounds fairly plain.

    "I told you -- I don't know."

    Here I think it has better rhythm by being two seperate but closely related sentences. As if the character puts emphasis on the pause, but still only says one thing.

    If I wanted the character to sound more hesitant and reflective, I might write:

    "I told you... I don't know."

    I hope readers pick it up the same way. If not initially, atleast after 500 sentences ;)
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    hoodwinked...
    they're so named because the 'em' [ — ] is the width of the letter 'm' and you can guess the rest [ – ]... the 'en' is the same size as a hyphen , so isn't really used as an 'en dash'...

    horus...
    using the em dash to indicate a pause in dialog isn't correct usage, so you'll probably find them changed to the proper mark, an ellipsis, when the publisher's editor gets to work on your ms...
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Why is it necessary to fiddle with punctuation in that case, Horus. A full stop is a pause anyway:

    "I told you. I don't know."

    Simple and straight to the point. If you really want to emphasize the pause, put a tag there:

    "I told you," Drake said. "I don't know."

    or even a beat:

    "I told you." Drake leaned forward. "I don't know."

    An em dash in dialogue denotes an interruption, not a pause or a trailing off. Overuse of either one merely makes a hash of your dialogue.

    Keep it simple.
     
  12. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    In my actual texts I've used the em-dash to function as semicolons.

    That's what I tried to illustrate in my little example too. Maybe it seems like overkill in such a small example.

    I'm very fond of the ellipsis, though. I'd probably use it the way it's used in my example above... To give dialogue a more soft, weaving or contemplative tone.

    In my own writing I can't use narrative beats and pauses, as I write for graphic novels. I have to merge the tone and pace of the voice into the dialogue lines themselves. I prefer doing it by using grammar rather than silly, colored fonts and such.

    I'd like to know if you thought my idea of what effect the text examples had was wrong, or just seemed unnecessary if it had been for a novel (which I'd agree on, since you have the narrative there).
     
  13. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Graphic novels are a completely different animal, and it's important to make it clear when you are talking about that medium.

    A lot of things are accepted, or even expected, in graphic novels that would never be appropriate in conventional writing.

    But there are other things you can do that are unique to that medium. You can split speech or thoughts across two or more speech/thought balloons. The placement of speech balloons in relation to other speech balloons can imply partial interruption. You can count on the artwork to convey the tone that a piece of dialogue is spoken in.

    I've given my opinion about how I would accomnplish the goal in traditional fiction writing.
     
  14. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good points. My examples were thought to be directed at writing in general, which is why I omitted that I write for comics myself. After that, I just started getting curious whether my impression of the use of dash and ellipsis was altogether wrong.
     
  15. hoodwinked
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    hoodwinked Member

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    Ah, mommamaia. Thanks for clearing that up for me! I had always called them the long dash and short dash.
     
  16. Atari
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    Atari Active Member

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    I'm a fan of the semicolon, myself.
    There is something -- poetical about it.


    Dash: 5 a horizontal stroke in writing, marking a pause or omission.

    Is the dash (Made of two hyphens, on the keyboard: -- ) the same as an 'em dash'?
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    yes... and it's how you show in your ms that you want an em dash inserted, when it's printed...

    while most writers can insert real em dashes easily enough nowadays, it's still best to use the double-hyphen in your mss, since in some fonts, an em dash is too close to a hyphen and it's hard to determine one from the other...
     
  18. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    How big an issue is this in practice? The context should make it clear which one is appropriate, and in Courier/Courier New (preferred by most publishers for submissions), the em dash is pretty easy to distinguish anyway.

    I'm not arguing. I'm really curious whether it would really furrow the brow of any submissions editor.
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it might furrow some brows, so why not be safe, rather than sorry?

    but i agree that it's nigh on impossible to mistake one for the other in some fonts...
     
  20. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The "why" is that autocorrecting -- to an em dash is a global setting in Word. Most of the time, I want the em dash. But in a manuscript, if I want -- to appear instead, I have two choices: turn off the autocorrection to em dash, or go back through the finished MS with a global replace of all em dashes to --.

    But a global replace is one more step, and the fewer cleanup steps I have to keep track of to ready the MS for submission, the better.
     
  21. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    The only time I use it is for interruption.

    "It's not my fault--"

    "--who else could it have been?"
     

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