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In the Pet Peeve Department:

If you use ellipsis points at the end of some dialogue to indicate faltering or trailing-off speech, you do not then have to announce in the narration that the utterance has "trailed off." It's evident from the punctuation.

If you use an em-dash at the end of some dialogue to indicate sharply cut-off speech, and the next line is another line of dialogue, you do not have to announce at any point that the second speaker has cut the first speaker off. The two lines of dialogue and their punctuation work aurally, just as in a playscript, and the reader doesn't need any help from the narrator to get what's happening.

"If you just turned yourself in..." He trailed off.

"Turning myself in is not an option."

We don't need to be told that he trailed off. We can see that he did. If you're going to highlight the fact, then tell us why it's significant enough to be worth highlighting:

"If you just turned yourself in..." He had so much faith in the integrity of the local security forces that he didn't bother to complete the sentence. The happy outcome was that obvious to him.

She knew how corrupt they were. "Turning myself in is not an option."

Telling us what we can see for ourselves is just lazy padding.

"I don't understand," he said. "Why don't you just--"

She cut him off. "Because it would get me killed!"

All "She cut him off" does is interrupt the rhythm of the speakers' exchange. If you're going to interrupt it, do something more substantive in the process.

"I don't understand," he said. "Why don't you just--"

She cut him off before his insufferable naivete could make her any angrier. "Because it would get me killed!"


"I don't understand," he said. "Why don't you just--"

She raised a hand to fend off yet another of his naive suggestions. Which part of "the whole security force is in my enemy's pocket" had he failed to grasp? "Because it would get me killed!"

This one comes up often as a participial phrase:

"I don't understand," he said. "Why don't you just--"

"Because it would get me killed!" she said, cutting him off. Her hands jerked forward and balled into fists, as if she were taking him by imaginary lapels to shake some sense into him.

We saw that she'd cut him off eight words before the sentence told us. Nothing is lost by deleting "cutting him off" or the entirety of "she said, cutting him off":

"I don't understand," he said. "Why don't you just--"

"Because it would get me killed!" Her hands jerked forward and balled into fists, as if she were taking him by imaginary lapels to shake some sense into him.

A lot of the time, "said" tags are unnecessary; we know who's speaking from context, from interpolated description ["Okay." His pained expression belied the assent. "Yes"], and from the content, syntax, and vocabulary of the dialogue itself. But "said" tags do serve a rhythmic purpose and help keep the reader oriented, and as long as they aren't awkward or excessive they're close to invisible, hardly registering on the reader's conscious mind, as integrated as punctuation. "He trailed off" and "he said, trailing off" and "She cut him off" and "she said, cutting him off" make the "said"s visible to no good purpose. When they appear frequently throughout a piece of fiction, they amount to a rhythmic crutch; to me they loom larger each time, and become annoying narrative tics. It's like the TV commercial where the guy's in the job interview talking about his qualifications and what the interviewer sees and hears is this droning guy in the background and the stain on his shirt SHOUTING IN CREEPY GIBBERISH!!!! He can't focus on what the guy's saying, because the stain distracts him so much.

Date: 2008-02-10 06:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I am inardinately fond of ellipses and em-dashes.

I don't think I'm too bad in the Department of Redundancy Department, but I'm often guilty of useless padding (which definitely leeches the tension, although sometimes I'm smart enough to go back and fix it).

Date: 2008-02-10 06:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The friend who copyedited my first couple of novels gave me an early status report on one of the jobs by saying, "Well, I've finished marking all your dashes...." I'm pretty fond of them too. And ellipses, although not as fond of those as one writer whose books I frequently work on. I get writer's cramp marking the thin spaces in all yeye's ellipses. I mark them while I'm keying design elements, before I start copyediting, and half my work is done. *g*

I'm working on reducing my massive overuse of dependent clauses, especially when they say almost the same thing but in different ways. There's pretty rhetoric, and there's "Oh for ghod's sake just pick one already!"

Here's to continuing process!

Date: 2008-02-10 06:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
my problem is when "X picked something up with her hand." what else is she going to pick it up with? her teeth? her feet? her magical powers?

Date: 2008-02-10 08:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes! Another one like that is "She thought to herself." Unless she's a broadcasting telepath, or she just mentally directed an unspoken statement at someone else, who else is she going to be thinking to?

Then there's "He nodded his head yes" and "He shook his head no." Sometimes I wonder if some cultural or regional thing I'm unaware of gives rise to that, besides its just being a figure of speech. In India, people do shake their heads to mean yes, although it's a different kind of head shake. Are there times when people shake their heads yes and nod their heads no? And if someone asks you a yes-or-no question and you nod, what else are you going to be nodding but your head?

Date: 2008-02-10 10:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]

On IRC, Pat often asks if a shake is yes or no, which makes me wonder how widespread *that* is.

One that bugs me is nodding, and then saying yes e.g

He nodded. "Yes, I think blah blah blah."

I'll delete the 'Yes' becaue it's redundant, but then I think that people often nod while saying yes to reinforce what they're saying so I put the 'Yes' back in, but then it's redundant so...

Date: 2008-02-11 12:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That bugs me in my own writing, too. That, and characters calling each other by their names more than people usually do in conversation. I try to listen hard and decide whether the person would naturally say the "yes" or the name. You're totally right that people do nod and say yes sometimes.

Good point, about Pat! Maybe it is a geographical thing.

Date: 2008-02-11 01:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Green pencil? What happened to the non-repo blue ones? Maybe green eyeshades.

I read entries like this and think "uh oh, she's not going to be reading my blog again". :)

P.S. - The letters in this reply box were teeny tiny and kind blue lookin' until *POOF* I hit the options button and things improved significantly.


Date: 2008-02-11 12:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Nonrepo blue wouldn't reproduce when they photocopy the manuscript with the different-colored marks--one color for the editor, another color for the production editor, another color for the copyeditor, etc. :) I like green or brown. Frequently somebody else has already used red. [ profile] gadarene turned me on to this awesome color called Tuscan red, but the company stopped making boxes of it, so it's hard to get now (you'd have to buy a whole assorted-colors box to get one of that color). I've never worn green eyeshades, although a guy I used to work with in Foundry Proofreading at The New Yorker couldn't focus unless he was wearing his baseball cap.

These reply boxes really do have teeny letters. I looked through the journal settings to see if I could make it easier for Paula to see them, but there was nothing customizable in this layout. Maybe I'll just make the whole journal's font bigger until I get a chance to figure out how to tweak it with a custom stylesheet. Blue-looking, though...weird! They look black to me on three different monitors. Huh.

No worries about your journal. :) :)

Date: 2008-02-11 03:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
How can the writer ignore them that way? ;)

Maybe someone should write the pencil company to observe that Tuscan red has a potentially large market among the copy editing classes? Obviously they still make them so you'd think it might be doable.

Sometimes the marketing people need a little help if you know what I mean. (Think Star Trek. )

My own proofreading abilities are a erratic. My writing style is such that I just put down whatever comes to mind. I call it a core dump. Then I slowly start to sort out the mess that I've generated. That includes editing out words ala S&W.

Since I often write as I speak, there are some real groaners more often than not. If I was more technically proficient, I'd probably have less of a problem. Parsing sentence structure was something I last did in elementary school and I was none too good at it back then.

My only salvation (if you can call it that) was being under the pen of a very good editor for the publications at the Center for Rural Affairs (no jokes on the name, we've heard them all ). My articles would come back a mass of blue lines. I learned a lot although it was none to pleasant at the time. :)

My biggest embarassments result from not re-reading what I've edited. Too often words are missing or mis-ordered in the process. Haste makes waste. And I always seem to be on some kind of deadline.

Might just be my monitor on the blue looking bit. Or my eyes at that size of type. Given the amount of sleep I've been getting lately, the should look pink at worst. :)

Date: 2008-02-11 07:03 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I increased the journal's font size a little, and it looks like the font size for composing comments is a bit bigger now too. I hope that'll help for a while. Next time I'm in the mood to tinker with the layout, I'll see about switching over to the most readable one I've seen. Not sure offhand which one it was, but I'll track it down.

The letters may look bluish because the page background is set to a dark blue. The font color might even be a very dark blue; I think I left it the black of the default, but truly black text on a truly white background is fatiguing to the eyes, so I might have played around with it.

I like your "core dump" concept. Sometimes I have to do that--get the words down to get the story told, and worry about finessing it later--and sometimes I'm in a headspace where everything will go astray if the next word isn't exactly the right word.

Good, rigorous editing has never pained me, but I do understand writers who find it unpleasant, and it's one of the most eye-opening ways to learn. In the process of turning down a proposal of mine, an editor I'm friendly with did me the immense favor of returning a heavy edit of the first five or ten pages of narrative. I learned more from studying what he'd done than from any descriptive lesson. I didn't have to extract what applied to the way I write; the lessons were right there on what I had written. It was invaluable, and I took genuine pleasure from it. I even loved watching my articles being completely rewritten by the editors at my college paper when I was a cub reporter. People used to freak after their first experience of that. I loved it because it taught by example; seeing what they'd done, I got it in a way that I wouldn't have if they'd sat there tutoring me in the principles of journalistic writing. And it was that much sweeter when one of my pieces went through with no more than a few style edits.

As far as other people's journals are concerned, I really don't sit in judgment. It's not my place to, it's not why I'm there reading, and I make too many mistakes to be entitled to cast stones even if I had an urge to. I'm prompted to entries like this one by things I see over and over again in the books I work on. It would be outside my mandate to mess with them in the copyedit--at most I might query, if whatever it is occurs enough times in the manuscript--but it's nice to have a place to vent. *g*

Date: 2008-02-12 02:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I don't mind editing these days but back when I was a fragile young flower of a writer, it was intimidating to get beat up as much as I did with Dan's edits. (I *STILL* think he was wrong on one thing he made me cut out. )

I learned mass quantities from the process of course. Made me into the at least marginal writer I currently am on occasion.

On the other people's journals, as you know, I'm just teasing as usual. It's what I do. :)

I like your venting. Keep the boiler fired. :)

Date: 2008-02-12 08:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Will do. :)

Date: 2008-02-11 07:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Oh, and we did tell the pencil company how much we wished they'd keep selling boxes of brown and Tuscan red. I wrote them and talked to one of their reps on the phone, and IIRC [ profile] gadarene did too. I have a dim memory of other copyeditors blogging about it as well. But we're really not enough of a market to make it worth their while.

And if the writer ignores all the copyeditor's marks, then all the copyeditor's changes will be set. :)

Date: 2008-02-12 02:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
What was that Orwellian image with the boot?

Regarding the non-responsive pencil company that is. :)

Date: 2008-02-11 08:51 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hah, and all I get are people who cannot use the plural form of "to be."

If this is someone whose books you've edited before, I wonder why they haven't bothered to change their "style"?

Date: 2008-02-12 12:12 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
There's one author who does one of these things over and over again. I did query it in one book, but s/he was still doing it in the next couple. It's no biggie; clearly s/he didn't think it was a problem, and that's always the writer's prerogative. (Possibly a copyeditor's query didn't carry as much weight as the editor's, also, which is also totally fine.) I'm glad I did query it once, though, because you never know. Another writer might have been oblivious of the repetitions and glad for the note. But it's not just that one writer; the same kind of thing has appeared in a few other books I've worked on in the last year or so.

Gah, I was sitting in a doctor's office last week while he was on the phone apparently dictating something for transcription, and it was hard enough to understand even right there in the room, forget recorded over the phone. All I have to deal with is characters on sheets of paper! *g*

Date: 2008-02-12 04:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Wouldn't this drive you nuts:

General: Patient is a well-developed, well-nourished, alert, cooperative, 14-year-old white male, moderate amount of left knee discomfort. He is alert. He is oriented x3 in no acute distress but moderate left knee pain. He is alert and oriented x3. Walks with a fairly normal gait. Alert and oriented x3.

And that's from a clear dictator, lol!

Date: 2008-02-12 08:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Even more nuts than I already am! *g*


Date: 2008-02-12 06:06 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I loves me some emdashes -- good to see you around Terry! :D

Date: 2008-02-12 08:39 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Good to see you too!

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