WHAT'S YOUR EXPERT SOURCE?
By Randy Rawls
Recently, while corresponding with a fellow writer, I ran slam-bam into a question that has plagued me for years. Oh, I made up my answers and stuck by them in all my writing and the edits and critiques I've done, but the question didn't go away, just took a long snooze.
Basically, the question that continues to nag me is: What is your expert source for those little things not defined for fiction writing?
Yeah, there are tons of experts on writing bestsellers. When I go to Amazon and search on how-to for writing fiction, the hits are 2,141. If I use writing fiction, there are 32,888 results. Each of these authors wrote the best book they could write, giving their honest opinions on how to ply our trade. One caught my eye because of its title. My answers should be there, it seemed. I scanned its table of contents. Did not appear to address my questions.
So, what are these issues that trouble me so—or not?
Em dashes. What is the proper way to display an em dash in fiction? My preference is the em dash (—) with no space on either side. For example: She wore her favorite blouse—the one Dave gave her—to the party. But is that correct? Why not a space before and one after? In fact, what is the size of an em dash? Microsoft Word's default gives us the equivalent of an en dash when you type two dashes. Is that okay, or should you create an actual em dash? I do, but who's to say I know what's right?
Ellipsis. There's one to get a good discussion going. Microsoft Word, by default, takes three periods and compresses them into one space, and some writers use this. Others use space, dot, dot, dot, space. Some use no space, dot, dot, dot, no space. Me, I use space, dot, space, dot, space, dot, space. There are probably other variations in use. Which is correct? And what's the authority to prove it?
Quote marks ending dialogue within dialogue. You know, the single quote mark, double quote mark bit. I use them together, such as: Tom said, "She screamed, 'Get out of my sight.'" But, one can argue there should be a space between. Tom said, "She screamed, 'Get out of my sight.' " I suppose you could even make an argument for two periods at the end. Tom said, "She screamed, 'Get out of my sight.'." Nah, that's just too strange looking. But, who's to say?
However, my point is I use em dashes, ellipses, and quotes within quotes in all my stories. Do I use them correctly? Beats me and, to the best of my knowledge, there is no REAL expert to ask or any REAL authority to read.
How do you do use them—and why? Do you know an absolute authority?
p.s. I dare not bring up colons, semi-colons, parentheses, serial commas, exclamation points, etc. There are so, so many. J