Editing Tip #69

Manuscript Formatting Secrets, Pt. 3 ~

When it comes to your choice of internal punctuation the colon, semi-colon, dash and em-dash are used for different purposes. I’m not here to tell you how best to use each in a sentence, I’m here to warn you about your em-dashes masquerading as dashes.

First off, a dash (or hyphen) is a short single mark on the page used to connect words to make a new idea.

dashese.g. self-reliant, yellow-green, make-up

The en-dash is a slightly longer than a dash (not quite as long as an em-dash) used mainly at the “end” of an idea.

e.g. “You don’t understand–“

       “No.” She cut me off. “You don’t understand.”

The em-dash is either two short dashes squished together or one long dash (used to set apart important ideas or asides).

e.g. I looked high and low for the pair of them — not that they ever stayed a pair long.

        and

        She wrestled her hair back — she wanted to plait it into a french-braid but that would be impossible this  morning — the ponytail would have to do.

As you’ll notice, all my em-dashes look like a pair of double dashes because WordPress doesn’t automatically change the single dash with space to either side ( – ) into an em-dash the way most word processors will. Neither will they make a proper en-dash. The other thing you’ll notice is that I could just have easily used a comma or no internal punctuation at all instead of em-dashes. This is a personal style choice or a publishing house preference in some cases. Regardless, if you use them in any of the above capacities they should not appear as single ( – ) dashes.

Check your manuscript for your use of dashes with the FIND function and assess for yourself whether you’ve used it correctly or not.

If you have a short single dash where a longer em-dash should be:

First – go to the word immediately after the dash and add a space using your space bar, then delete the extra space. More often than not the program will see that as a cue to create an em-dash for you.

Second – if the system won’t listen to your prompt then add the second short dash manually.

Third – to make an en-dash you leave a double-dash attached to the last word. If you want to include it in dialogue then add two end-quotes. You’ll notice that the first set will go the ‘wrong’ way and the second set will go the ‘right’ way. Just delete the wrong one and your dash will have automatically turned into an en-dash.

The first option is better and more esthetically pleasing in a manuscript/book. The point though, is to show your agent or potential small publisher that you understand the basic uses of this kind of punctuation. If you’re self-publishing it will save time for you to make these changes instead of your copy editor.

Happy Editing!


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