J.D. Palmer





I have become a slave to the ellipsis...

Yes. Those three little dots that ended that last, um, sentence?  See? See what happens? You use them and it invokes this idea that there is more. Or, in a more technical sense, it's used to omit words in a sense that the person would "get it." 

Do you?

I don't. I love using them. They have found their way into my texts. Who can resist saying "Yeah..." when you want it to feel a little sarcastic? Or saying "Okay..." when you want that person to know you're onboard but trepidatious? It works so well!

Except now it's in my writing. My books. Blogs. Short stories. Seemingly... Everything. 

And it's not bad. Except it's a habit that I can't break. When you write from first-person, you can get away with it in small amounts. A character lost their train of thought. Or, better yet, they had no words to describe what was happening. How... fortuitous.

But unless every character speaks dramatically, constantly, like a bunch of bad Morgan Freeman impersonators, it can get out of control real quick. But that leads to a new problem. One that has plagued playwrights and actors and novelists and politicians everywhere. How... Do... People speak?

Pinter made his pauses famous. No play of his is complete unless replete with long silences. This, he said, was how people truly spoke. So he, perhaps, might get behind these three little dots...

But then there's the era of Sorkin. Any episode of The West Wing probably encompassed every written word of dialogue in every single one of Pinter's works (29 plays and 15 dramatic sketches). Sorkin was of the mind that people spoke quickly, mostly eloquently, in a constant back-and-forth. But he interspersed this dialogue with pauses, just of a shorter, more punctuated (no pun intended) pause. 


So that brings me back to what isn't really a problem, but might be a predicament. I'm not an east-coast elite, no one in my family, my town, my state ever spoke like Sorkin. To be honest, growing up in Montana, I'd be closer to the long, silence-filled dialogue. Hard-workers who use silence as the same weapon as a Bostonite might use words. Except that's only when they weren't complaining to their friends about the weather, or the politics, or the mosquitos. There was always an exception. But that, in my roundabout way, is what I'm trying to get at. Not everyone pauses, or rambles, no matter where they're from. But apparently...

My characters do.

I've become a slave to the ellipsis. And trying to break it has lead me down an interesting path. Because I truly don't believe people carry on conversations in which they say what they want to say, end it with a period, and then the next person speaks. Anyone who believes this obviously has never been cut-off mid-speech. I also don't think people grunt a series of half-sentences at each other. So...

It's fun to pair an introvert and an east-coast lawyer in speech. I just... Have... to stop... relying on these little dots. Or am I wrong? Are they distracting? Do you like them? 

Let... Me... Know.

Jackson PalmerComment