Self-publishing Advice: Ask the Book Doctor

Writing advice for the self-publishing author.

Q: I use three periods in my dialogue a lot to indicate pauses of speech, interruptions of words, etc., but I haven’t seen this in many books. I keep trying to limit myself or use other means of communicating, but I don’t know what to substitute them with. Are they okay to use? Can I use them a lot? What are some alternatives? Below are some examples:

“Goodbye, brother.” John took her hand and squeezed it. “We have to go. I’m sorry…I’m just,…I’m sorry we couldn’t save you.”

“Matt…what did you trade for them?” He looked up, tried to smile, and was about to give an excuse, but her disapproving stare made him look down again.

A: Although three periods (called ellipses) can represent hesitation in dialogue, so can a comma, and the two should never be used together, as it was in the first example. In the second example, a simple comma would suffice. “Matt, what did you trade for them?”

The use of ellipses for hesitation (not for interruption) is acceptable, but like any creative writing device, it should not be overused, which is why you won’t find the device used too often in good literature. Use ellipses only when hesitation is vital to the dialogue, as it was in the first example. Use a dash (sparingly) to indicate interruption, as in the example below.

“I’m sorry, but I—”
David scoffed. “Sorry? Don’t give me any of your excuses.”

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Bobbie Christmas, book doctor, author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), and owner of Zebra Communications, will answer your questions, too. Send them to Read more “Ask the Book Doctor” questions and answers at

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