Let Go of the Dots!

Ellipsis Abuse

“Hi, I’m Holly. I’m a writer, and I have an unhealthy addiction to ellipses.” I see a number of familiar faces in the audience, and I’m inspired to be a more decisive writer, a better leader. I pull a handful of dithering dots from my pocket, careful to hang onto the few loner-types willing to serve as periods, and I lay them down on the podium. It’s hard to let go, particularly when they arrange themselves like eyes below two cock-eyed commas and above a lazy right parenthesis. I smile back reluctantly.

My sponsor coaxes me to return to my seat, but I am tempted to scream, “It’s all a mistake!” and shove the innocent little dots back into my pocket with my fountain pen and a ball of carpet fuzz. “It’s okay,” she assures me. “They’ll be fine.”

My friend Roy looks proud at me for coming clean, especially after I spent the morning urging him to “Murder his darlings,” and spouting other revolutionary writing advice I had no intention of following. I can quit any time, I thought to myself, smiling smugly as I advised him to edit once, edit twice, and edit once again.

They won’t be fine. I don’t know how I know, but I know. They will vanish into the abyss of lost and crumpled drafts, that black hole euphemistically known as the “circular file.” It seems so final…

The other writers, sensing the awkwardness and pain of the moment, burst into song.

I pull myself decisively from the podium, straighten my spine, and leave the imperiled punctuation marks to be swept away pitilessly by the punctilious janitor. That, or he’ll pocket the insidious things and join our meeting next month.

There’s some literature at the back of the room, and we shove it into our bags before grabbing punch and cookies.

A Parenthetical Phase

Sure enough, the janitor attends the next meeting. We don’t judge him for the pilfered punctuation. He fancies himself a writer, now. Having had his first painful editing session, he is in elliptical rehab. You can tell he’s still suffering withdrawal: Now and then he brushes at the pages of his manuscript, muttering, “Shoo! Out, out, damned dots!”

This is why we don’t serve Dippin’ Dots at meetings or toss confetti on special occasions.

A month ago, I would have nestled that last sentence (or maybe some part of it, like “or toss confetti”) between parentheses like rounded bookends. I am learning to let go, to grow phrases and asides into full-fledged sentences, and then to let them stand unadorned.

When we cover this topic, we like to invite programmers to speak on using parentheses in search queries or other code. They shake their heads at our illogical use – the way we’ll just pull bits of sentences, terminal punctuation and all, together with fragments to create some mid-paragraph mash-up of a disordered thought process.

It’s a phase. And it’s about as treatable as toenail fungus, which is to say that it requires a great deal of time, effort, and patient diligence.

(Next time you’re tempted to abuse parentheses, remember that they even look a little bit like infected toenails, and remind yourself to stop it before you have to dip your mind in bleach.)

Your Air Quotes Don’t Belong on Paper!

Oh, he’s back. You know that annoying guy who shows up at every meeting and makes little hooked-finger gestures by his ears as if to say, “I’m not really saying what’s coming out of my mouth right now, I’m just sort of saying I’m saying it, if you get my drift”?

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, could we writers try not to mock this character by recreating him on paper? You know, actual “paper” as opposed to, like, pixels on a screen, or something? Oh, never mind – let’s give him a pass, there, too.

There are other groups for this disease. They meet down the street every other Monday, and include small business owners, advertisers, and MarCom folks. (Usually.) I picked up some of their literature last time I ducked in (you know, just to get out of the rain [because lame excuses are always a good thing to include in your writing]), and you may find these handouts useful:

Nothing wrong with parentheses (when you need them and use them sparingly [and nest them properly])

I hear they even hand out free red and black Sharpie markers when  you “graduate.” (Because…you know…you never really graduate. It’s a lifelong battle, these writerly addictions.)



Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; Innocents & Demons; and A New Leaf for Lyle. You can find her books on Amazon at http://amazon.com/author/hollyjahangiri. For more information on her children's books, please visit http://jahangiri.us/books.
Please share this post!

4 thoughts on “Let Go of the Dots!”

  1. “Eeee-lipses, are like Mary Jane and lead to harder forms of punctuation.” J Edgar Hoover.

    There you go. Be inspired by that. All you need is a crochety old law and order man, a writer suffering with ellipsitis, or even dashitis, and a dog. The dog is the hero, of course. You can throw in a crisis, and a resolution, too, but don’t get carried away.

  2. But I love peppering my writing with parenthetical phrases. It’s like a fatal need to put bric-a-brac on every available surface in one’s living room. Parenthetical phrases assure me I have nearly covered all bases possible.

    I rarely use ellipses though. I love being precise as much as possible, except when I balk at saying what I suspect must be an infuriating comment. If the intended recipient is a friend, I’d likely uses ellipses. But what about strangers who seem to be itching for a little excitement and drama in their lives? Well, I’m nice if I can’t be kind on such occasions. I use sarcasm. hehehe

  3. It’s a good way to write different characters if they have some little habit of speech or thought. Of my three, the two women are quite different.

    I agree with the Handbook of Good English: punctuation is there to be used. I use everything (yes, including exclamation points), but check out my HGE for style frequently, so I use the best punctuation for the purpose.

    Some people have arbitrary rules: never use ! or …; or the ellipses should always be generated by hand HTML code with dots and non-breaking spaces – vs. using the ellipsis character. I prefer the latter – spaced out points look wrong to me.

    But we all prefer not to see too many on the pages we read; with ‘too many’ subjective, because they do slow down reading.
    Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt recently posted…Encouraging new writers: on the edge and without a netMy Profile

Comments are closed.