A couple of punctuation rules won't hurt. Honest. These are some rules and observations that will help you in your every day pursuit of the perfect story. In fiction, we take "literary" license with punctuation, but still there are some hard and fast rules.
1. THE ELEMENTS OF GRAMMAR, by Margaret Shertzer, states that "use a dash (double dash or em dash) to indicate a sudden break in a sentence. When you end a sentence in a dash, no punctuation is needed."
2. THE ELEMENTS OF GRAMMAR (regarding ellipsis dots) states that you should use three dots in the middle of a sentence, four dots at the end of a sentence. Ellipsis dots can indicate the passage of time, that a statement is left unfinished, or can be used to indicate hesitation or a kind of "dying away" of a thought or action. Whether to put a space between the dots is a matter of individual style.
3. PUNCTUATE IT RIGHT by Harry Shaw states "a dash lends a certain air of surprise or emotional tone on occasion."
A favorite saying to help me remember the rule regarding commas:
A cat has claws at the end of its paws
A comma's a pause at the end of a clause.
The following is my argument with an editor concerning the use of hyphens.
I wrote: "Dear Lee, Regarding "soft-hearted father." I thought the rule concerning adjectives was if neither word could stand alone, then they should be hyphenated. For example: it's not her "soft father" or her "hearted father," but her "soft-hearted father." You used this rule with "back-stair gossip," stating in one place that it should have been hyphenated, but in another instance you didn't.
"Regarding " ill-at-ease" I deleted the hyphens as you requested. But, I thought that when two or three words are used as one, that the hyphens were called for. However, I can't seem to find a rule of grammar for that."
Lee's response: Touché.