• em and en

    20 January 2020

    A fan called Emma recently returned to my Demonata series, to read the books again after many years, and posted the following comment on Twitter:


    "I opened the first book and realised my overuse of dashes in my writing is fully attributable to Darren Shan. I'M NOT EVEN SORRY!"


    This made me chuckle, because I've had lots of run-ins with my editors over the years, regarding my use of em dashes and en dashes.


    Basically, an en dash is a short dash, like this: -


    While an em dash is a longer dash, like this, but without the gap between the two short dashes which I have to use here:--


    Traditionally, an en dash is used to mark up a long pause between two joined sentences. For example: "Spot has four legs - Spot is a dog."


    Whereas an em dash would be used to break up a sentence with a couple of short pauses. For example: "Spot -- a dog -- has four legs."


    That's always seemed illogical to me. Visually, a short dash to me automatically suggest a short pause, whereas a long dash suggests a long pause. Why should it be the other way round? It makes no sense. I think a lot of people in comics use the dashes the other way, and that's always felt to me to be the RIGHT way.


    (Of course, you can use colons and semi-colons for the same thing, and many writers and editors would insist that those are the correct marks, but I turned my back on those piggy-backing dots and commas a long time ago, and use them very sparingly, only when I feel I must, as I did a few paragraphs above, since it would have confused everyone - not least myself - if I'd used an en dash to highlight an en dash. I'm even getting confused talking about it!)




    I decided early in the game that I was going to reverse the traditional use of em and en dashes, and although my editors protested - sometimes quite loudly and passionately - I stood firm. I don't think anyone should do the "wrong" thing in literature - or indeed in life in general - just because everyone else has done the "wrong" thing for a very long time.


    So, if I was writing about our old faithful friend Spot, I would write (here comes one of those colons again -- watch out!):


    "Spot has four legs -- Spot is a dog."


    or (egads! again!!):


    "Spot - a dog - has four legs."


    And if all of that has left you scratching your head and wondering just what sort of a nitpicking grammatical lunatic this Darren Shan guy is -- just think how my poor editors feel about it!!!!


    :-) :-) :-)

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