How to Use Ellipses
An ellipsis is three full stops or periods together. You can either put a space at the beginning of the ellipsis or the end, or you can put no spaces around it. It’s down to personal choice, just remain consistent with what you choose.
There are two main uses to ellipses. The first is when quoting, and is used when the writer wishes to omit something.
An ellipsis is used in place of a piece of the text that is not relevant or to save space. For example, begin with the following sentence:
We sat down together for a nice meal and then I killed him.
To omit half the sentence, the ellipsis would be used to show part of it was missing:
… I killed him.
Sometimes, when quoting, you may need to change something in the quote, usually for grammar purposes. If so, then you place your changes in a square bracket.
… [T]hen I killed him.
Because we are starting the sentence with then, we surround the capital T in the square brackets. This is more often used in factual writing, however, and isn’t something you’d see in fiction very often.
The second use of an ellipsis is to denote some kind of pause or hesitation.
As a pause, the ellipsis demonstrates the gap in the sentence.
Then… I killed him.
By using the ellipsis in this way you are telling the reader that the speaker or narrator paused before finishing the sentence, usually for a kind of dramatic effect. When used in this manner, however, they have a tendency to break the flow of your writing if they aren’t used appropriately. The problem with using an ellipsis as a pause is that what happens in the real world doesn’t always translate well into the written word. In reality, people pause a lot when they talk, but this quickly gets annoying if you’re reading.
To show hesitation, particularly at the end of a sentence, an ellipsis is used to trail off the text.
“John, I can’t believe that you did…”
Much like the pause usage, in this manner there is an element of telling instead of showing when using an ellipsis.
Ellipses are sometimes used to show an interruption, however this is better expressed using a dash, as it is more abrupt.
“John, I can’t believe that you did―”
This is a clearer demonstration that the sentence has been interrupted by something else happening.
Ellipses are a useful tool in the writers’ arsenal when used appropriately and sparingly. When used correctly they can add drama and tension to a scene or sentence. But when overused they quickly create an unpleasant reading experience and a bland picture in the mind of the reader.
© 2018 David Chitty
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
David Chitty was born and raised in Thanet in the 90s. He devotes most of his energies to writing fantasy fiction novels.