Illusive Ellipses by Rachelle Abbott

Why so much trouble over such little dots . . .? The ellipses points are used to show missing words. In a way, it is like an apostrophe being used to show a missing letter in a contraction.The trouble usually arises over when to use three dots and when to use four. (Darn those English professors who taught all the ways to use the ellipses, and now, only pieces and parts of those rules remain swirling around in your brain.) My suggestion is when in doubt, and you can’t look up the rule, use three points.

Having said that, I think the best idea is to know the exact rules and use them appropriately. Because Mystic Publishers uses the Chicago Manual of Style as the final word on editing, I will be using that text to support the rules for using ellipses.

There are essentially three methods of using ellipsis dots:

  1. The three-dot method (used general works and some scholarly ones).
  2. The three-or-four-dot method (used for most scholarly works).
  3. The rigorous method (used for legal works and textual commentary).

I am only going to discuss the three-dot method because for our purposes of writing stories, whether fiction or non-fiction, this is the method that should be used. Only three points are used no matter where the omission occurs, whether the omission is at the beginning, the middle, or the end. It is also only three points if entire sentences or paragraphs are removed. The most common use of the ellipses points in fiction is in dialogue. It is used to show that the speaker is fading into or out of his/her own thoughts leaving things unsaid to the reader. If the speaker is being cut off either by another speaker, an event, or action, then the EM dash is used to show this. The Ellipses can also be used to show a long pause, hesitation, or fragmented speech.

Let me give a few examples:

  1. “I wish I had never met you! I wish we had never kissed! I wish. . .” Slamming her fists against his chest, Brynn’s body begged for him to hold her once more. (Notice that even though the ellipses signal the end of a sentence, and the capital “s” signals the start of a new sentence, you only use three ellipses.)
  2. He tiptoed to the door and leaned his ear against the cold mahogany wood and heard crumbs and shards of hushed words, “. . .please. . .my family. . .never. . .please.” (Notice that there are still only three points whether there is one word missing or many.)
  3. Fidgeting with the threads hanging from the hem of her shirt, Lucy couldn’t manage to meet his questioning eyes. “I didn’t mean to . . . ,” she said through clenched teeth and searched for the right words to continue. (Notice that the comma is still used as it should be at the end of a quote and before a dialogue tag.

An example of when to use an EM dash instead of ellipses:

Wyatt took a deep breath and tried once again to help her understand, “Mom, it wasn’t my fault—”.

Mom grabbed him by the shoulders, and said, “I’m not interested in whose fault it is! I just need this fixed.”

* * * * * *

Wyatt took a deep breath and tried once again to help her understand, “Mom, it wasn’t my fault. . .”

Mom grabbed him by the shoulders, and said, “I’m not interested in whose fault it is! I just need this fixed.”

(Notice that written the first way, Wyatt is trying to explain but is interrupted by his mom. In the second example, Wyatt fades off in thought without finishing his sentence.)

I hope this helps demonstrate how to use the ellipses in writing narratives. The other rules of using the ellipsis . . . well, that is a post for another day!

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.