Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Book Review - Comma Sense

First published here in February 2009 - everything you could ever want to know about the ellipsis.

Someone queried the group at Writers Weekly for books dealing strictly with punctuation. Out of curiosity, I went on a search for recently published books on the topic, and found quite a large selection. Who knew all those little marks would one day become popular reading? I'll review a number of these new books here, starting with the one at left, which covers all the nit-picky things we need to know to look like adept writers and editors. Here's an example of a few novel points I learned from the book:

We all know an ellipsis represents writing that is supposed to be there, but isn’t.

Sometimes it’s a good use of punctuation, for example, to note a popular song without boring the reader with all three verses plus the chorus. Here’s an example:

For he’s a jolly good fellow … which nobody can deny.

According to Comma Sense: A Fundamental Guide to Punctuation by Richard Lederer and John Shore, there should always be a space inserted before and after the ellipsis, as well as between the periods within the ellipsis. I admit I have infrequently seen this rule practiced.

Furthermore, there is a four-dot ellipsis. Did you know that? I did not. This occurs when the omission ends a sentence or falls between sentences. In a four-dot ellipsis, there is no space before the first dot. The extra dot simply represents a period.

You now probably know more than most writers and editors, who when they are somewhat accomplished at their jobs, at least agree that the ellipsis should be sparingly used in any form of writing. If your book manuscript has more than a dozen, start slashing, because more will likely land you a special place in a slushpile. But, I digress...

The book's authors are hysterically funny with the examples they offer to demonstrate the use of any particular bit of punctuation, and that is probably what sets the book apart from other similar tomes. The demonstration given for the four-dot ellipsis was a tad too wicked to insert here (having to do with cod pieces and the development of architecture), but let me simply finish with the ending from their chapter to give you a sense of their humor and why this might be the most chuckle-filled punctuation guide you’ll ever read.

Hey, we don’t want to end by saying you’re now a genius with ellipsis, but. . . .


Dani Greer runs the Blog Book Tours group at Yahoo!, is a founding member of The Blood-Red Pencil, and is currently Special Projects Coordinator for Little Pickle Press. Most days you'll find her in the virtual realms or with blood-red pencil in hand. You can read her Quickest Blog Book Tour Guide Ever by clicking here.

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  1. It's a rare team who can make punctuation interesting. Thanks for the review!


  2. Thank you. Thank you for posting this.

    I've been trying to get a straight answer on ellipsis use for years, mostly to figure out whether the four-dot ellipsis is valid in novels or whether it's strictly for essays and textbooks. Between a published grammar guide and an editor's input, I think I finally have that straight answer! Plus extra information! I think this calls for celebratory cake.

  3. Good post, Dani. Nice to have some points clarified. That said, have you, or anyone else, run into the e-book publishers who ask for different formatting because of code, not standard grammar rules. Ellipses, for example. There are some e-publishers who are saying no spaces in between.

    Just more confusion after you were so good to clear some up. :-)

  4. Thanks for sharing the information, and making it enjoyable!

  5. Oh, yes, and you must always follow the house rules. Another example is en dash vs. em dash. You can usually tell which the epublisher prefers if their books are right-margin justified. The "correct" ellipsis and the em dash just get stretched out too much in formatting. It looks bad. I just recently had this question come up with a publisher, and it does make sense from that perspective.

    Well, and the truth is, hardly anyone uses the ellipsis correctly. It's not a graceful thing to type . . . is it now?


  6. Sounds like a book worth having on hand. Thanks for the review.


  7. Fantastic blog you have here, and this sounds like a good book.

  8. I LOVE ellipses ... four- and three-dot, both! (As Dani well knows. ;-) ) They pock the landscape of my early drafts, mixing it up with a slew of em-dashes. I have to go through and sweep them all up before the final.

    Two things about these bits of punctuation that I was taught regarding their use in dialogue:

    Ellipses at the end of dialogue indicate the speaker's voice trailing off:
    "Ellipses in fiction? I don't know..." the author responded uncertainly.
    And an em-dash indicates a speaker being cut off by another speaker, an action, or something:
    "Ellipses in fiction? I don't know—"
    "Of course you do!" snapped Dani irritably.

  9. What a timely post. I'm currently editing a MS which shows the author's love of ellipses. Just yesterdaya we had an almost heated exchange over my suggestion to throw nearly all of them out and rewrite without them. Our argument was left without resolution, as I was unable to convince her that my POV was correct. (She has another problem with POV.) But now I have more ammo! In fact, instead of arguing, I'll just give her the link to this post. Thanks, Dani.

  10. I do tend to overuse and incorrectly use elipses in informal writing. But when it comes to work I'm going to turn in . . .


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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