O BEAUTIFUL EM DASH (to be sung to the tune Olympia and with gusto)

FB often has posts about writers and what strange people we can be, how differently our brains are from more sensible folk. It’s true, I’ve noticed, that writing about paranormal fantasy romance, fairy love stories, wizards and shapeshifting, ( not to mention hot sex) tends to go along with other odd behaviors.

When I started writing a couple of years ago, I had a habit of using ellipses very, very often. Some publishers don’t really want ellipses popping up all over the place, and I had to figure out some other way of ending sentences when unspoken details were meant to be imagined by the reader. (An ellipsis is the three dots you often see at the end of a sentence instead of a period, for example, as in, …, just in case you didn’t know this extremely important factoid.)

The editor assigned to walk with me through the sorting of one of my books encouraged me to use other things. So I began to use two hyphens, as in –, if you see what I mean. One hyphen is for double barrelled words, like, um, high-spirited, for yet another example. Two hyphens are for, well, I am not too sure. But that particular editor taught me about en dashes and em dashes. She wrote me emails which I printed off and tried to understand. All I could produce from my elderly (but ergonomic, I hasten to add with pride) keyboard were two hyphens.

What is it about such simple things that confounds the human brain? How many times did I read about the em dash and then slide the piece of paper into the stash of instructional emails I keep buried in my intray, feeling totally confused?

Finally, while editing the first fifty pages of my current book, I gave in, caved, imploded at long last and looked up “em dash” on Google. Well, I could see that I didn’t have one on my keyboard. I did what Google said, and it doesn’t work on my keyboard. So I went to the place of final authority, and asked my editor, KC Sprayberry, to explain about the em dash and how to get one.

In the end, having tried different ways of achieving this mystical procedure, I did as she suggested as a last resort, which was to get into it via the Symbol function on the Word Insert menu. It worked! At last! A beautiful em dash appeared, slim and graceful, velvety and silky, unhampered by ugly spaces like the double hyphen, and I fell in love with the em dash.

The pleasure I felt in wading through fifty-odd pages of trauma and romance, searching for the dreaded double hyphen was really weird.

I felt it in my body, in my throat and chest and stomach, the joy of erasing that ugly double hyphen everywhere, along with the unwanted ellipses, and inserting instead the graceful, gorgeous em dash.

A single line, made probably of two bits, like two hyphens but so much more perfect, sliding in there, the one on the left kissing the final letter of the word before, and the one that would be on the right, if it WERE a double hyphen, God forbid, that one kissing the first letter of the next word. How perfect is that, in a romance novel?

I had such a good time, it was better than a glazed doughnut. Call me crazy, call me a writer even, if you must, but I LOVED every single experience of inserting those em dashes. When I came to the last paragraph, the end of the manuscript as it stands at the moment, I felt a miserable sense of deprivation.

And I have come to realize, you know, as I just finished telling my therapist this morning, I have just got to GET OUT MORE.

If I didn’t realize it before, I sure realize it now.

But, OMG, the beauty of the em dash. I love, love, love it. That black, shiny, slender line, unmarred by any spaces…

Oops.

Maybe I should start writing non fiction. I mean, sorry, non-fiction.

Anyway.

AND!! (OOPS, no double exclamation marks, please.)

In addition, did you happen to notice how I cleverly slipped in a number of the keywords my very expensive marketer found for me? The ones I was supposed to be putting in ALL posts of ALL kinds for the last year, and forgot until he went in and looked at my blog posts last week and had a fit. No keywords? Where are your keywords, woman?? (oops, there I go again.)

Well, from how on, there shall be keywords. And em dashes, by the Gods of War, as my Norse mother used to say, in multiplicities.

You just watch. Watch me fly. Dashing through the snow, or cherry blossoms, whichever, em dashing forever across the starry wastes of the universe…

I never should have left nursing.

 

 

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