1. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. Active Member

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    Using ellipses for dramatic pause effect

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Nicholas C., Jan 24, 2012.

    Basically, my question is at what point does this become too much? Or do you feel its use is just altogether unnecessary?

    I recently used them in my WIP for a section in which a character has to explain something nasty, and which makes her uncomfortable. Here is the example (I included a bit before just to give some context). Is this overkill? Warning: there is some unpleasant description of a violent act -- Mammamaia and Cacian, you may want to stay away lol. ;)


    “May I help you?”

    “I need a room.”

    “Okay, and how many guests?”

    “Two.”

    “How long will you be sta-”

    “Just tonight.”

    The woman lowered her head and tapped away, her imitation nails click-clacking against the keys. “Do you have a smoking preference?” she asked.

    “Yeah, smoking. If you got it.” Jack leaned in, prompting the receptionist to look up. “Can you tell me about the history here?”

    The woman blinked several times before finally, “Well, I believe the Starlight was built around the late ‘20s. The hotel was quite popular in the ‘50s and ‘60s. It was a favorite of the Rat Pack’s – in fact we have a suite named for Dean Mar-”

    “Not that kind of history,” Jack interrupted. He glanced over at some casino-goers passing on his right; paused, then leaned in even closer. “Has anything bad ever happened…in any of the rooms.”

    Her reply was little more than a blank stare. The key-clacking eventually resumed as she lowered her head. “I don’t know, sir. I can’t say.”

    “How long have you been working here,” Jack’s eyes found the name tag above her left breast, “Lila?”

    She breathed hard out of her nose then, “About six years.”

    Six years,” Jack repeated. “I’m sure you’ve heard something one way or the other in that time.”

    “Sir, I don’t think our management would appreciate me discussing that sort of information with our guests. If you would like, I can give you the number to our-”

    A crisp one-hundred dollar bill jumped across the counter and landed on the keyboard. Lila gazed at the picture of Ben Franklin. She looked back up at Jack then looked over her shoulder before grabbing the bill and stuffing it in her pocket.

    “There used to be a man – years before I worked here – who would come and gamble every year. He was Russian, or Ukrainian, or something. Had a real long name. People here just referred to him as Mr. September, since he came every year around Labor Day.

    “He never seemed to do well at the tables. Though he always came back every year with more money. Then one time, he had a record night at the roulette table. Took it for more than anyone ever had in one sitting. He called the desk later that night to say he would be checking out early, but eleven came and went next morning, and no one had seen him. Then, the maid finally came around,” Lila paused, then swallowed, “and found a…a headless body in the bathtub. It was him. Several of his fingers were…missing…and his head was lying in the toilet.”

    “The police came and investigated,” she continued, squeezing her hands together. “They found out he was being backed, financially speaking, by some…pretty bad guys.”

    “And which room was this?” Jack asked.

    “1533.”

    “… Is it available?”

    click-clack, click-clack, click-clack, click-clack, “Yes.”

    “I’ll take it.”
     
  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I use ellipses and dashes a lot like that, too. I think it's fine, as long as you're not using them excessively to the point where they lose their impact.
     
  3. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    Yeah, I didn't find that excessive. And you're using them correctly I believe, not like when someone just uses them all the time to imply they're trailing off and then never finishes...

    Anyhoo, where was the gruesome description? There was hardly anything at all - a headless body, some fingers missing. BAH! Kids stuff. I've written worse myself! ;)
     
  4. akexodia
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    akexodia Member

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    Nope, not over doing at all! They are placed perfectly and provide a good sense of pauses and the story mood.
     
  5. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I like it, it reads really well, I think you used them really effectively :)
     
  6. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Don't put ellipses at the beginning of a dialogue fragment. Ellipses denote trailing off speech. There's no such thilng as trailing on speech.

    If you need a pause, do it in narration, or a beat.
     
  7. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. Active Member

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    Thanks for the feedback everyone. I think I was just a little paranoid.

    Hah! Yeah, you're right. I meant gruesome by mammamaia and caican's standards.
     
  8. Kesteven
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    Kesteven Member

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    I don't have a problem with 'trailing in', I think it indicates the physical and verbal inflections of hesitance leading into speech. But yes, you can probably communicate most of that through description as well, and if that's more conventional then it's probably better to do it that way.

    I am curious about the spacing, though. It looks weird to me if a pause ellipsis isn't followed by a space, or if a leading ellipsis IS followed by a space. But that might just be me.

    Also realistic speech has pauses and mangled bits all over the place and while that's something you don't necessarily want to emulate, if that is a direction you're leaning in then ellipses and dashes are a good way to achieve it.
     
  9. Kallithrix
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    Kallithrix Banned

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    Well, I'd better not show them the passage where I describe how someone is executed by being implaled up the bum on a ruddy great pointy stick then :D
     
  10. Nicholas C.
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    Nicholas C. Active Member

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    I've always been taught that when an ellipsis is breaking up a sentence, then there is no need for a space. If a new sentence is starting after the ellipsis, then you have a space after the ellipsis then start the new sentence.
     

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