Saturday, May 12, 2018

Commas, Periods, and Dashes—Oh My!

I have been writing "professionally" for ten years—and am just now learning about em dashes.

Those of you with creative writing degrees, published by traditional houses, or edited by someone in the know, are probably laughing and saying, "Whaaaat?!?!"

Courtesy Booknotized.com

But after sharing on Twitter my discovery of Microsoft Word's em dash "key", other writers revealed that—like me they'd either been winging it—or had no clue.

Say you're one of those writers? Splendid!

How did we function without em dashes?

I used commas and periods. The commas are fine, being common writing practice. The periods? Well, let's just say they created a lot of trailing sentence fragments. With em dash—that extra long, hyphen-looking thingy—this no longer happens.

I must admit, though. I miss the choppy-sentence style.

In addition to em dashes, there are en dashes, used to denote sequences and such. This morning I got to replace several commas with en dashes in a listing of the items in a captain's log. Yeehaa!

No. Really. Who knew proper punctuation could be so exhilarating?


via GIPHY

So how DO we type em and en dashes? (Hehehe save the blue ones for me.)

In MS Word, an em dash can be typed by pressing Ctrl+Alt+Minus. That's the MINUS key on the side numeric keyboard, NOT the hyphen key at the top of the main keyboard. An en dash is Alt+Minus.

BUT.

While Ctrl+Alt+Minus works like a charm in the MS Word program, it doesn't work in many other places. Like Blogger and Twitter to name two.

Luckily, a Twitter writer-friend relayed this in a comment:

For an em dash type Alt+0151
For an en dash type Alt+0150

You can also get an em dash by typing double hyphens OR going to the insert symbol menu. I'll leave you to your own on those.

Courtesy Connie J. Jasperson
For a discussion on the proper usage of em and en dashes—which is a subject unto itself—I found these links helpful:

Chicago Manual of Style-Em Dashes

Get It Write-Em Dashes

When To Use and Not Use an Em Dash

Em Dash: Why Should You Love It?

As a fledgling em- and en-dasher, I'm sure it will take me a while to master these lovely punctuation marks. But I'm game, and hopefully this discussion will help you too.

~ That Rebel, Olivia J. Herrell, writing as O.J. Barré

P.S. I am back from a short writing break, beginning  four weeks ago when my brother-in-law suffered a stroke. He is home now, and still numb on his right side, needing 24/7 care. But the scariest part is over and his rehab is going well. Well enough that I can focus and write again, hallelujah!

O.J. Barré is author of the upcoming Awen trilogy, a rollicking fantasy set in 2042CE that combines current, ancient, and future history. Book One, Awen Rising, is complete and in query. Book Two, Awen Storm, is in early edits, and the first draft of Book Three, Awen Tide, is in process.

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