Thursday, 1 March 2018

Dash it

On the last your go post, Patricia G replied...

"I'd be interested to find out what other Womag writers feel about the use of the m-dash used as a punctuation mark.
I often use it for dramatic effect but most writers published in PF and WW seem to avoid it. Is its use seen as 'sloppy' writing?"

One thing to keep in mind is the house style of the magazine. It could be that authors use them and editors take them out (or vice versa). I doubt any story would be rejected for use or lack of dashes, but if you've notced an editor has a strong preference it's something to consider during your final edit.

For those not quite sure of the difference between the dashes and how to use them...

An em dash (sometimes called m dash) is like this — . It takes up the same space as a letter m, hence the name. It can be used in place of commas, parenthesis (brackets) or colons. In this case it will have a space either side of it. Em dashes are generally considered more emphatic and less formal than the punctuation they replace.

Another use for an em dash is to show that letters or words have been deliberately left out, for example to avoid naming individuals or quoting swear words.

The en dash (or n dash) is smaller. The same space as a letter n. It looks like this – . An en dash is used to seperate a range of numbers. Eg The required word count is 800–1,000 words. It can also be use to form some compound adjectives.

Although they're different, it's becoming more common to use the same size dash for both situations. That's probably because, with most keyboards, one is much easier to use than the other. Remembering which one we should be using, and which key combination produces it can seem like an awful lot of effort for something most people won't notice anyway.

The hyphen is the smallest and looks like this -. Unsurprisingly, they're used in hyphenated words and names. Eg This post on dashes and hyphens was an eye-opener for twenty-six-year-old Lucy Barrington-Smythe.

What do you think about the use of dashes? Do you use them yourself? If you do, is it always the right one?

(If you're in the mood to read more of my writing tips and advice, take a look here.)


Kitty said...

Differentiating between M and N dashes is a new one on me! I often use dashes, though, as an alternative to semi-colons which I've always considered a bit too formal for Womag stories - as for whether TPF or WW have kept them in the published versions, I must admit I've never noticed. Will look out for that. (See, I used one in my last sentence. I don't like to use too many too close together because I think it makes the page look untidy.)

Denise Watson said...

M and N? This is news to me, as well. I have noticed the use of these recently and wondwered if it was someone who couldn't be bothered to punctuate correctly. I also though "Mmm .... I like these. I wonder if I should start using them?" I beleive I've used the (what you have referred to as) M dash on a couple of occasions and it felt good.

Anonymous said...

I had no idea there were different sorts of dashes. I thought the different lengths were just an adjustment on size by the publisher!

Frances Garrood said...

I use dashes quite a lot, in all my writing. But I'm also very fond of semi colons, buy I found the magazines take these out!

Gail Richards said...

I think it's a US/UK English thing. In the US they use the em dash without spaces, in the UK the en dash with spaces. From a spacing point of view the em can be problematic because if you have a long word either side it all goes on to the next line and leaves you with a lot of white space at the end of the line before. I love en dashes! but there's a tendency now in some publications to replace them with hyphens, which don't look right. Not that I'm a punctuation nerd at all.

Carolb said...

I can never remember which one is which, em or en, so stick with the hyphen type dash.

I know I'll have to sort it out putting it right when I do the edits on my manuscript, but will leave the final word on whether I've got it right to the editor...

Rosemary Gemmell said...

Interesting post, Patsy. A couple of my editors were fond of the dashes rather than commas or semi-colons so I suspect that might have been to do with the publisher's style. I've just been going through The Highland Lass (rights have just reverted to me) and changed several em-dashes to commas as I think it looks less intrusive - the couple I left were more appropriate for that sentence. Not a big fan of too many dashes, or parenthesis.

Wendy's Writing said...

I use them (m dash) occasionally in stories for all the mags I write for. As far as I know, they’ve never been taken out.

Patsy said...

@ Kitty – I findit interesting to look through my stories to see what changes, if any, have been made.

@ Denise – It's often good to try new things.

@ Anonymous – I can see why you'd think that.

@ Frances – I've had some removed, but not all.

@ Gail. Yes, dashes without spaces could be a real problem when it comes to fitting something into narrow columns.

@ Carol – I tend to use hyphens in first drafts too.

@ @ Rosemary – Publisher's style and personal preference do play a big part. I have to curb my natiral tendency to madly over punctuate.

@ Wendy – Sometimes they seem to be needed, don't they?