Monday, May 14, 2012

The Eclectic ... Ellipsis

Do you incorporate the ellipsis in your manuscripts? I’ve seen this three-dot punctuation mark in manuscripts for decades and each time it seems that the authors implanted it into their work for individual reasons. As I understand the MLA Handbook, the ellipsis can be for the omission of one or more words, especially when what’s omitted can be understood from the context. Another is to show that certain text has been deliberately omitted because the entire material is much too long to repeat.

Some authors use an ellipsis in written conversation when the conversation of the character talking dwindles … then continues, apparently after the character (or the author) has thought of something else brilliant to say. I saw a whole herd of ellipses (plural) in one story, peppered about in almost every sentence, because they looked, well, literary. Stylish. Cute.

One of the best reasons for ellipsis usage comes from the late Kathleen Winsor, author of a book I loved when I was a teen in the 1960s. It was Forever Amber, a sexually titillating book that teenage girls weren’t supposed to read (so, of course we did).

I remembered Forever Amber After dear Mellisa Dempsey on Facebook quoted William Faulkner extolling the virtues of reading. Thanks, Mellisa!

When I researched Forever Amber I discovered that it was “the best-selling book of the 1940s,” and had been banned in nearly fifteen states because of its sexual references. No wonder we loved it!

Winsor was quoted as saying, “I wrote only two sexy passages, and my publishers took both of them out. They put in ellipsis instead. In those days, you know, you could solve everything with an ellipsis.” (Wikipedia, as written in Peter Guttridge’s 2003 obituary of her:

Kathleen Winsor: Author of the racy bestseller 'Forever Amber'" The Independent (London, England).

All right, writers: What do you solve with your ellipsis?


  1. Oh, I should attend E.A. (Ellipsis Anonymous). I think two semesters of legal writing drilled the ellipsis in my head...not sure. But I use the ellipsis most often when I let an idea "dwindle..."

    Can't wait to read "Forever Amber!" I ordered it! :0) Great post, E!

  2. Mellisa, when I gave talks at writers and teachers conferences, I'd mention that I learned about writing sexy books from reading "Forever Amber" and applause would ripple around the room. It must have been our rites of passage book. I placed great emphasis on the phrase "he crushed her to his chest" ... and gave it much more importance that the phrase really had.
    Enjoy, Mellisa!

  3. I wonder what the twelve steps would be for EA? See you at the meeting, Mellisa!

    I've never read Forever Amber, Eleanora. It's going to the top of the stack.

    As for your question about how I use/what I solve with an ellipsis, I too use one when it seems essential (to me) to have a thought or bit of dialogue fade-out either momentarily or for good. More of a character reveal, I think, than anything.

  4. Marsha, maybe Forever Amber should be on the common books list ... ? :-)

  5. The first step in E.A.: "Never talk about E.A.." Obviously Edward Norton would approve...

  6. Correction: "Never talk about E.A...."