Editing, Fiction, Punctuation, Writing

Taking an Ax to My Old Flame—

While my subconscious works out a problem in my romantic comedy, I’ve been editing the first novel I completed—fourteen years ago. As I read, it became apparent I was a little too fond of the em dash. I think I used at least one on every page. So I decided to run a search for them.

emheartIn a manuscript of 89,000 words, I’d used 543 em dashes! Seriously. Five hundred forty-three. I wouldn’t have thought that possible.

Don’t get me wrong. The em dash is legitimate punctuation. I use it to indicate an interruption, add emphasis, or a sudden change of thought. For instance:

“If you’re asking me to—”

The man—swear to God—had giggled.

She would trust him again—in time.

The party lasted all night—where were you, by the way?

I could use parentheses, colons, and commas in place of some of the em dashes, but my fiction is usually informal, so the dashes fit.

In my defense, I’ve learned a thing or two about writing in fourteen years. I no longer have such a blatant crush on that bit of punctuation. I kept all the em dashes used to indicate interrupted dialogue, but many of the others were not used to good effect and bit the dust. The total now stands at a more reasonable 384, but I still have rounds of editing to do. And I haven’t checked the ellipsis count, yet.

Do you have a punctuation weakness?



7 thoughts on “Taking an Ax to My Old Flame—”

  1. I LOVE ellipsis. They are my favorite go-to punctuation. I use en-dashes a lot. My critique partner hates them and always wants me to turn them into em-dashes. But I don’t.


    1. Thanks for commenting, Anne. 🙂 I just got around to reading your latest blog post a few minutes ago, and I’ll go back to comment.

      Looking at my current writing, it seems I use more ellipses and fewer em dashes than I used to. I understand the rules of usage for those, now. But it’s the comma that I despair of ever learning all the rules for. Then again, as publisher, I can make my own house style. 😉


  2. I tend to use too many exclamation marks! I don’t know why but I just love them!! I usually have to take some out when I edit. But I’m not happy about it!


  3. Yep, and it’s the semicolon. I know some readers hate the semicolon and are pulled out of a story whenever they see one; however, they’re just so handy.

    PS: My blog is very outdated. You don’t need to check it.


    1. Nice to see you again, Ann. 🙂

      Yes, I read that about semicolons on a blog the other day. It said too many readers don’t know what a semicolon is. If so, I’d think they’re not the kind of reader who even notices punctuation. That said, I think semicolon use does depend somewhat on the genre.


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