I have a confession to make... I’ve been reading a lot of young adult books recently. I realise that you are what you read. Whilst I’m not an angsty teenager, I’m definitely a series of interrupted thoughts… illustrated by my prolific written use of the ellipsis.
Ah the ellipsis (or ellipses in plural). Not a magical event involving the moon and sun, but those three little dots ‘dot-dot-dot’ (followed by a space) that signify a gap in the middle of the sentence, or at the end of a sentence when you leave a thought or conversation trailing. And ellipsis sounds much lovelier than ‘dot-dot-dot’ doesn’t it?
The ellipsis is part of a suite of writing clichés that I’ve noticed in many young adult books. Putting other YA story tropes aside (the missing parent, the good girl, bad girl, geek etc), the ellipsis does a great job of communicating the angst that only a teenager can feel, expressed through a certain awkwardness.
One of my writing heroes Judy Blume, famed for being one of the first to tackle real-life issues (think divorce, racism and bullying, not wizards or dragons), is also a serial abuser of the ellipsis. Blume, the original queen of children’s and YA literature, uses them liberally but because of her literary status and place in the story of my life, I’ll let her off. Those books taught me a lot and are still relevant and loved by my own pre-teen daughter.
My only issue is that once you see multiple uses of the ellipsis it can get annoying, like a tic. Rather than a beautifully constructed sentence that’s short and punchy (because honestly, they are my favourite even if I struggle to be succinct), the overuse of the ellipsis is the equivalent of verbal waffling. Unsure when to stop, construct and move on.
But diligent use can really make a point, so I’m standing up for the ellipsis. It also sounds like a lovely 1920s cocktail. I’ll have an Ellipsis please… but shaken not stirred. It gets you thinking… doesn’t it?