Journey to a Bestseller: En & Em Dashes (Series #23)

Hi everyone! I’m going to try to make this shorter than usual so I can get back to writing. I’m coming to the big climax. I’m on Chapter 16 and I have about half a chapter put down. I’m not sure if I want to end it in this chapter, though. It seems too soon. But, I’m forgetting the new ending I have planned. It sets up the rest of the series. There should be four books total. Unless I get mega popular like JKR and they make Legos out of my Clockwork world. Bahahaha. No really, it’s happened before. I usually wake up right about then. Lol. My word count this week is: 66,318. I’m getting close.

I don’t know if I’ve drawn out his darkest moment enough before I give him hope, and if the following scene drags, so I make notes to myself in the manuscript and see how it flows when I read through it. If I’m still not sure, I’ll have my writing partner take a look and when she sees the comments, she knows what I’m looking for in her critique. She is fabulous. Hi Alisha!

This coming Saturday is the book fair and I’ve made swag, gifts with purchase, fancy bookmarks that can be purchased, and free ones (with my handle @haskinauthor on them, of course), I have painted some beautiful wooden hearts for The Queen’s Heart that I made into visor hangers and magnets, and I have the books; old and new versions. I ordered book display stands, and a new tablecloth. I have sparkly November leaves to sprinkle on the table, and two signs, one that tells my bio, and the other tells about the trilogy.

As for my writing life, I did have an issue come up this week, with my editing actually; in which I needed a refresher course on en dash, and em dash. Don’t even know what I’m talking about? Okay. That’s fair. There are actually three types of “dashes”: the hyphen, en dash, and em dash.

The hyphen is just the technical word for what everyone calls the “dash” button. How to type it: you know where it is; up there on the right of your keyboard, after the zero. It shares a key with the underscore.

The en and em dashes are considered “special characters.” How to type them: The long and foolproof way to get there, if you use Microsoft Word like me, is to Click the “Insert” tab, then go all the way to the right and click where it says “Symbol.” Click on “More symbols” and select the “Special characters” tab, the En and Em dashes are the top two. And in case you forget, it reminds you right there of the other way to type them. Em dash: Alt + Control + minus key. En dash: Control + minus key. Here’s the thing, though. It tells me how to do it, but for some reason my keyboard won’t do it. Ah, I figured it out. You might have the same problem if you have a keyboard without a number pad. You cannot use a dash in place of the minus. It must be a numerical ( – ) symbol.

I hear you saying, Great, you’ve told me there are three of them and I know how to type them, but how do I know when to use them? Aha. There are very specific rules for each, even though we murder them with the “dash” key on a regular basis. But who knows all of this stuff all the time, right?

The hyphen or “dash” combines (or compounds) words like fair-haired, tight-lipped, plot-focused, or weight-bearing. These are compound words. The hyphen is also used as a minus sign, and it’s the number separator in your phone and social security numbers. Those are the only times you are supposed to use the “plain dash.” Surprised? Yeah, many of us are.

The En dash means “to” or “through.” As in, “The kids have winter break from December 23–January 7.” Or, “I have a meeting from 9–11 a.m.” Notice there are NO spaces before or after the En dash. There are no spaces before or after any of the “dashes,” yes, even the hyphen.

The one we call “dash” most of the time, is actually an Em Dash. It is the size of two hyphens, and if you are typing along in Word and you hit that hyphen key twice and keep going, it will automatically turn it into an Em dash for you. Thanks, Microsoft! Otherwise I’d go crazy hitting that special characters key. Sheesh. So, the Em dash is used for bold interjections or brings attention to the bit that’s set apart.

If a comma works, by all means, use the comma. Did you see what I just did there? I set apart the clause “by all means” with a pair of commas. (It’s called a parenthetical phrase.) That’s what you normally do and it’s grammatically correct. But if you want to make an impactful break in the sentence, use Em dashes to set apart the clause. If you saw a dark shadow outside your house last night and the cat’s missing the next morning, you might say, “Someone evil—surely the shadow from last night—has kidnapped the cat!”

It’s also the one used when a character leaves off the end of a sentence, or is interrupted.

She stands at the door. “Hey honey, how was your—”

“You wouldn’t believe the day I had today.” He sets down his briefcase.

“Uh huh?”

“Well, Tom got the promotion and I wanted to strangle him. Then I had meetings all day and got a new project that’s going to swamp me. What did you do today?’ he says as he drops his keys on the counter.

“Um, things—”

Notice that even when the Em dash is holding the end of that sentence, there are still no spaces.

One other thing the Em dash is good for, is when you are making lists that get confusing because there are commas within clauses. Like this:

Brenda spoke into the phone as she put up her feet, “I was getting ready for the camping trip, you know, and I had to wash the car first—take Billy’s pants to the tailor, he ruins every pair—pick up the groceries, those girls eat candy for breakfast, but not on my watch—and kennel the dog, you know she hates the kennel—all before Bill got back with the girl scouts.”

If I had used all commas in that sentence, it would have been unreadable. I hope that all makes sense. Or maybe it was a refresher. Either way, there you have it. All the ways we ruin the “dash.” Do you need a recap?

(-) Hyphen—used for compound words like rosy-cheeked and phone/social security numbers.

(–) En dash—used between numbers and dates like 1/27–1/30, Monday–Friday

(—) Em dash—used for setting clauses apart, lists with too many commas, and interruptions

Well, that’s all folks! It’s 5pm, but I can get a couple hours of writing in! Keep writing and I’ll see you next week!

~jenn

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