em-dash - Page 2

Making an Interruption FEEL Like an Interruption


Dear Editor…

My critique group has a debate going on about how to punctuate dialogue when the speaker is interrupted versus when they let their words trail off. Can you clarify the correct punctuation?


Dear Sue…

Last week’s presidential debate, tomorrow’s vice presidential debate, next week’s second presidential debate, your writing group’s punctuation debate . . . ‘tis the season for hashing out the big issues, isn’t it? And for writers, creating the perfect rhythm for your fictional conversations is a big issue. If you want a character’s words to trail off, use ellipses as I did above when I let my list of debates trail off. But for an interruption, the almighty em-dash can’t be beat. Think of that long line as a chop at the throat, a hand slicing through the air in a forceful cease-and-desist motion: “But I want—” “Enough. It’s not up for debate.” Did you feel that verbal karate chop? That’s a satisfying interruption.

Happy writing!
The Editor