ONE SPACE BETWEEN SENTENCES IN FICTION
TWO SPACES BETWEEN SENTENCES FOR NON-FICTION
Manuscripts that often mis-use the em dash, colon, semi-colon, and ellipsis. Over use of any of these grammar tools disrupts the flow of a book, not to mention that incorrect usage is … well, incorrect! Please read the following. If you over use these tools, then re-edit. In many cases, a simple comma, or creating two sentences out of one, works better.
The em dash is significantly longer than the en dash and is usually used to separate parts of a sentence in standard English prose. Here are its major specific uses:
1. An abrupt change in the flow of a sentence where the text description that follows the dash is unexpected or significantly deviates in tone from what came before it.
2. An abrupt termination, such as when a person is speaking and is suddenly interrupted before finishing a sentence.
3. A parenthetical remark — like this — where there is initially an abrupt change but the normal flow of the sentence returns after the second dash Em dash.
The em dash (—), or m dash, m-rule, etc., often demarcates a parenthetical thought or some similar interpolation, such as the following from Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine:
At that age I once stabbed my best friend, Fred, with a pair of pinking shears in the base of the neck, enraged because he had been given the comprehensive sixty-four-crayon Crayola box — including the gold and silver crayons — and would not let me look closely at the box to see how Crayola had stabilized the built-in crayon sharpener under the tiers of crayons.
It is also used to indicate that a sentence is unfinished because the speaker has been interrupted. For example, the em dash is used in the following way:
Kieran watched me, still rubbing my arms as he told the cashier, “She’ll also have an ice water.” He tilted his head toward the menu board. “Anything else?” “Did you order me a chai?” I asked.
“Cause you know I can’t function without a good cup of—”
“You can’t function with it, either.”
Then I turned my attention toward the clerk, unsure if I recognized him or not. I hope he doesn’t know me. “Nothing else. Thanks.” I handed him some bills.
If you’re using em dashes to indicate a trailing off in thought, you’re using them incorrectly. Also, as with ellipses below, over use of em dashes breaks the flow of your story, and gives editors nightmares.
The colon has two uses:
1. To indicate that what follows it is an explanation or elaboration of what precedes it (the rule being that the more general statement is followed by a more specific one) [There is one challenge above all others: the alleviation of poverty.]
2. To introduce a list [There are four nations in the United Kindom: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.]
Note: A colon is never preceded by a white space, but it is always followed by a white space, and it is never followed by a hyphen or a dash.
Please don’t use a colon to introduce dialogue! That’s why keyboards have commas!
The semicolon has two similar major uses:
1. To join two complete sentences into a single written sentence when the two sentences are too closely related to be separated by a full stop and there is no connecting word which would require a comma such as 'and' or 'but' [It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.]
2. To join two complete sentences into a single written sentence where the second sentence begins with a conjunctive adverb such as 'however', 'nevertheless', 'accordingly', 'consequently', or 'instead' [I wanted to make my speech short; however, there was so much to cover.]
Keep in mind that one does not use a semicolon when there is a connecting word. This is a common mistake.
Note: In the above uses, the semicolon is stronger than a comma but less final than a full stop.
There is a minor use of the semicolon: to separate items in a list when one or more of those items contains a comma [The speakers included: Tony Blair, the Prime Minister; Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and Ruth Kelly, Secretary of State for Education & Skills.]
The ellipsis (...), sometimes called the suspension or omission marks, has three uses:
1. To show that some material has been omitted from a direct quotation [One of Churchill's most famous speeches declaimed: "We shall fight them on the beaches ... We shall never surrender".]
2. To indicate suspense [The winner is ...]
3. To show that a sentence has been left unfinished because it has simply trailed off [Watch this space ...] The ellipsis indicates an unfinished sentence or thought. The thought or dialogue trails off. Do not overuse the ellipses. There should not be a lot of trailing thoughts in your book. It is not used when a thought is interrupted; that is the em dash.
In general, treat an ellipsis as a three-letter word, constructed with three periods and two spaces, as shown here.
In nonfiction writing one uses an ellipsis to indicate the deletion of one or more words in condensing quotes, texts, and documents. One must be especially careful to avoid deletions that would distort the meaning.
In fiction writing, an ellipsis is usually meant to convey an unfinished thought designed to force the reader to use his/her imagination to discern what might come next. This is easily overdone, however, and can adversely impact the flow of a story. Because of their disruptive power, ellipses must be used very sparingly and only with careful prior consideration. Never resort to ellipses as a crutch or out of laziness. An example of of the ellipsis:
They say your life flashes before your eyes when you stare death in the face. It’s a total cliché, but I assure you. Mine did, even though I have only lived seventeen years. Sadly, I hadn’t lived long enough to do anything. No dates with a boy—I’d never even kissed one. I’d never been to college, never been to a formal … in fact, I’d never even left the State of Minnesota. I longed to travel the world, to see places I’d only read about. I couldn’t die yet. My life was just starting!
The parenthesis: Almost never used in novels. So don’t use them in yours.