We have an awesome variety of punctuation options in the English language: commas, semi-colons, ellipses, en- and em-dashes, periods, parentheses, question marks, exclamation points, even the always delightful interrobang. Each of these performs specific, commonly understood functions. So when you use them, there’s no need to then also explain in words.

Example: “You don’t sound too sure about that?” Laura replied questioningly.

The problem: The question mark already signaled that the reply was questioning.

Possible solution: “You don’t sound too sure about that?” Laura replied.


Example: “When will I be released from this…this…” John fumbled for the right words.

The problem: The ellipses themselves SHOW that the character is groping for words.

Possible solution: “When will I be released from this…this…” John shot an accusing glance at his captor.

Not only does this eliminate the repetition of explaining what ellipses mean, it’s also propelling the action rather than just tagging the dialogue!

Alissa McGowan

Alissa McGowan

Alissa is the founder and owner of Red Pen for Rent. She is passionate about helping authors make their work fucking awesome.
Alissa McGowan

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Writing Tip: Let Punctuation Do Its Job

by | Feb 3, 2017