When did it begin, my love affair with Dash and Ellipsis? Not in high school or college. If I used an ellipsis at all, it was within quoted material to show that certain parts of the quotation had been omitted. And I don’t recall any dashes in the carefully written, carefully punctuated essays I wrote then. Nor do Dash and Ellipsis appear in any quantity in my later non-fiction:
It wasn’t until I began to write mystery fiction that I adopted a style replete with dashes and ellipses. Why? They just seemed to appear on the page—the way characters sometimes do without warning. I even think of Dash and Ellipsis as characters. Dash, after all, is short for Dashiell, a name made famous by the mystery author, Dashiell Hammett. My Dash is tall, handsome and—dashing. He’s also impatient, interrupts frequently, departs abruptly and returns unexpectedly. Dash is bold, strong, and sure of himself.
Ellipsis is just the opposite: shy and well . . . hesitant. I picture her as a figure out of Greek mythology, a mortal whose beauty attracts one of the many lascivious male gods. He pursues, she flees and is about to be overtaken when a sympathetic Diana whisks her into the ether, leaving behind a series of small, rounded, evenly spaced footprints.
Dash and Ellipsis figure prominently in my first mystery novel. My editor for that book didn’t raise an eyebrow at their abundance, but she did insist they be done correctly. No weak, half-hearted double hyphens for him, but the long, unbroken line of a true Dash. And no scrunched together dots for Ellipsis. She had to appear in her full glory as a series of perfectly spaced periods.
By my third mystery, I’d become so enamored of Dash and Ellipsis that I could barely write a paragraph without using several of my darlings. When my new editor protested, I reluctantly changed some dashes to commas. But those sentences seemed weak and emasculated without Dash’s force and energy. I also eliminated some of my ellipses, but again, I wasn’t happy with the result. Instead of fading away with gradual grace, those sentences had a clipped, brusque feel. Oh well . . .
Nevertheless, when I became a co-editor of an anthology of mystery short stories, I remained a fierce champion of Dash and Ellipsis. I fought for them in other authors’ stories as well as my own. And I insisted they be done right, which led to battles with another co-editor that nearly ended in blows.
But if you care about someone or something as much as I do Dash and Ellipsis, you have to stand up for them, right?