Many writers encounter special characters within writing and either don’t know how to use them or how to get their word processor system to render them properly. Yes, you can go “insert character”, however, for characters such as an ellipse and em-dashes, most word processors auto-replace.
The Ellipsis (…)
The ellipsis is a punctuation mark formed of three dots (not four, or five, but three). It is used to signify an omission of text. When used in fiction writing, it symbolizes trailed off thought or dialogue. For most word processors, the auto-correct feature will replace 3 successive fullstops (periods) with a single character. Even if the system you’re using doesn’t, most people will register the (…) symbol as an ellipsis.
The Dashes (- – —)
When critiquing and editing, I frequently see a mixture of the hyphen, en-dash and em-dash. However, each has it’s own usage and should not be mixed.
The hyphen (-) is used to amalgamate words together to form adjectives, e.g. left-handed scissors. A hyphen is also used to separate a word when it is divided across two lines, however, this has rules of its own, dividing words at the syllables.
The en-dash (–) is used to denote a range and is commonly used in non-fiction, scientific writing, e.g. 4–6 m. Some will insist that an en-dash has no spaces around it, however if you’re going to auto-generate the en-dash in MSWord, you need the spaces. (I’ll come to that in a moment.)
The em-dash (—) is more common in fiction writing. It is used for a pause or emphasis. You can insert added thought into the middle of the sentence, replacing the use of brackets. You can insert action into the middle of dialogue. It is also used to denote that dialogue was cut off in an abrupt fashion.
Note that each is a different length: – – —. The length differences is noticeable, so don’t get them mixed up.
When writing this post (directly into the WordPress editor engine), I was forced to insert each character separately using the insert character function. However, when writing in MSWord or Scrivener, I can type a double hyphen, and depending on whether I’m in MSWord and whether I include spaces around the dash or not, the word processor will automatically insert the correct symbol in its place.
If you are using MSWord, here is what you do:
If you are using Scrivener, this is what you need to know:
There are many other special characters that are common throughout literature. In all cases, there will be a set of special keyboard strokes that will render those characters. All word-processing systems will operate in similar fashions. You just need to play around with the settings to work out what combination of characters will generate what.
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© Copyright, Judy L Mohr 2016