Friday, November 4, 2011

Common Problems (Part 2 of 50)

Avoid purple prose punctuation. This shows up in two ways. First is the pause (. . .) which means slow, deliberate thinking. Purple-prose punctuation occurs when writers

• don’t trust their writing

• don’t trust readers to interpret

• make an attempt to be dramatic—and fail

• write the words as they hear them inside their heads, including the pauses between the phrases.

The pause is properly called an ellipsis (. . .). When used as an obvious pause, it's effective. "I was thinking. . . maybe. . . "

Too many writers use it as a dramatic pause. It rarely works. Trust readers to get the point without going melodramatic.

• She hopes against all hope that Ben isn’t dead. . . that he’ll soon return. . . that she’ll finally be able to tell him the truth. . .

• Scenes of my own arrest flashed rapidly. . . my disgrace. . . my loss of innocence. . .

If I write clearly,
readers will grasp my meaning.


  1. As always, very basic and very true. Thanks Cec.

    Now does a tsk...tsk...tsk deserves it too? ;-)

  2. Thank you for your wise counsel. Does this inclued overuse of the m-dash?

  3. I wouldn't classify the overuse of the em dash as purple prose, but it's easy to overuse. A few years ago my wife made me aware that I had started to overdo the em dash. After that, I watched it more carefully.

    The em dash is a printer's term, and we make it with two hypens immediately after a word and before the material we want to add and no spaces between the words. As soon as you hit the space bar, Word makes the two hypens into a long dash (em dash).

    I'll write more about the em dash later in this lengthy series.


What are your thoughts?