Dom’s pet hate corner #1

P1010391.jpgWell, that’s the first one obviously: rogue apostrophes. Let’s leave that one there because I do it a lot myself, but if I don’t pick it up on the read through, my editor grabs it during a review.

The next one is a minor point that many are guilty of, including me. It’s the increasingly common ‘trailing off’ dialogue:

‘But Marion, we can’t just…’

Okay, I don’t have a problem with that, except that it’s often accompanied by a dialogue tag:

‘But Marion, we can’t just…,’ his voice trailed off.

Continue reading “Dom’s pet hate corner #1”

The great ellipsis battle of 2016

I don’t think a single piece of punctuation has caused me so much trouble as the ellipsis. It’s not that I don’t understand it (though since discovering the internet, I have probably developed an annoying tendency to overuse it); it’s formatting the bloody thing that is proving to be a ginormous pain in the butt.

Okay, so what can you use an ellipsis for?

Well, in formal writing, the ellipsis is used to show that words or phrases have been missed out of a quotation:


George was a fine man. He was a strong man, a pillar of his community and a stalwart of the local fire service. At weekends he enjoyed golf, scuba diving and wearing his wife’s clothes.


George was a fine man … At weekends he enjoyed golf, scuba diving and wearing his wife’s clothes.

Simple enough, but note that the sentences remaining must carry the same meaning and they also have to make grammatical sense.

This isn’t very common in creative writing; here ellipses are more often used to show dialogue trailing off.

But George, those are my …

Or a pause for thought.

George, how would you like it if I just started wearing your … your underpants!

Or to denote uncertainty or a distraction.

George, the vicar is here to see … For the love of God! George!

All pretty straightforward, unlike George’s life choices. So what’s the problem. Well, for an autistickler like me, it’s how to format them. On the internet, there are loads of opinions to choose from. The common choice is to use three dots separated by spaces. A bit like this:

George, have you seen my . . . ?

This doesn’t look too bad on the page, but it all depends on the the justification. Most eBooks need to stretch the text around to justify it properly, and that can lead to big unsightly spaces between the dots.

George, have you seen my     .      .     .    ?

Not good, but not a big deal, I thought. I’ll just define my own ellipse character that uses a thin space between the dots. Not a complete fix, but it’s better than nothing.

One small snag though: To make sure that the dots are not broken across lines, I need a non-breaking thin space. While there is a unicode definition for a non-breaking thin space (character U+202F, I think), it doesn’t appear to be standard across all fonts. So when your readers change the ebook reader font to something other than Times Roman, those carefully crafted spaces between the dots all disappear.

All modern fonts define their own ellipse character (some better than others), so in the end, I decided to stick with that. That only left the problem of the spaces on either side of the ellipse. Again, the justification of the text often leads to this sort of nonsense.

George, the vicar is here to see     …    For the love of God! George!

So it was time for a bit more research.

As it turns out, there seems to have been a little bit of a change of thinking in how ellipses are formatted, and I think it’s due to writers having to cope with flowing text on web pages. I’ve read a couple of books recently that dump the first space before the ellipsis and leave the second one. In this regard, the ellipsis behaves like any other bit of punctuation: it sits flush against the word to its left, and has a space after it.

George, the vicar is here to see…    For the love of God! George!

Without the space before the ellipsis, the dodgy justification is not so pronounced. And the best part is that I don’t have to remember to hit the non-breaking space in front of it.

So how do you know if your book isn’t finished?

I’m doing the agency rounds for book number 3 at the moment. As you’d expect, the submission criteria don’t vary that much between them:

  • Covering letter
  • Synopsis
  • First fifty pages or the first three chapters.

A lot of the agencies also post some helpful hints about presentation, and increasingly, recommendations for literary consultants – which I’ve talked about before.

Anyway, I came across the  Caroline Davidson Literary Agency who, according to their entry on LitRejections, were not interested in any of the following:

Chick Lit, Romance, Erotica, Crime, Thrillers, Science-Fiction, Fantasy, Poetry, Children’s Books, YA, Or Non-Fiction in these areas: Autobiographies, Memoirs, Conspiracy Theories, Educational Textbooks, Local History, Occult, PhD Theses, Self-Help, Unfortunate Personal Experiences, True Crime, or War Stories.

Bloody hell, I thought, what are they interested in?  I was intrigued enough to head over to their website to take a look, and under submissions guidelines, I found this:

What we are looking for in a novel »

A good title; an engaging story with a beginning, middle and end; vivid, memorable characters whom one cares about; superb dialogue; a trans­porting sense of time and place; accuracy of detailing; psycho­logical plaus­ibility; an intriguing beginning and memorable ending.

In addition, what fills us with joy is the writer who has a palpable love of language; who always chooses precisely the right words; eschews cliché; handles pacing with the grace of a dancer or musician; conjures up moods and atmospheres with precision and panache. His or her spelling, punctuation and grammar will be immaculate.

First novels are welcomed at CDLA, but only if they fit all the requirements above.

And there you have it:  all they’re looking for is a bloody good book. At the very least this is what every writer should be aiming for.

A bit further down, we have a few more gems that tell you whether or not your book is in a fit state to be published:

The classic signs of an ‘unpolished’ novel are as follows:

  • you haven’t actually finished it
  • you haven’t revised it
  • you’re still at the first or second draft stage
  • you haven’t read it out aloud and improved it in the light of that experience
  • you haven’t given the novel to test readers (i.e both men and women of different ages and from varying backgrounds) and acted on their detailed feedback.

Points 1–3 should be obvious, and I will keep banging on about point number 4: read every page in a loud clear voice to hear how it sounds. There’s no better way to catch awkward sentences and an overabundance of dialogue tags. After you’ve read your work for the ninth time, missing/misplaced words will just wash over you because you’re not actually reading at this stage; you’re remembering. Read it out loud, and watch the mistakes fly out at you.

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