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Craft of Writing

How an Ellipsis Illustrates Human Obsession…or Why I Quit a Career as a Graphic Artist to Become a Writer

Some of you know that I was a graphic designer and had a small business for 14 years. I don’t mention it often, since despite the artistic aspect those days don’t connect very well with my career as a writer. Mostly that’s because my work was for hire, and my creativity was forcibly channeled into creating marketing material for clients—and art prostituted to the cause of sales is not art, no matter what they say on Madison Avenue.

I hadn’t thought about that past life much until recently. I subscribe to Joel Friedlander’s excellent “The Book Designer,” a daily e-newsletter about the book creation that generally contains useful info in many self-publishing areas. But earlier this week came this: “How to Build a Better Ellipsis with Adobe InDesign.”

An ellipsis.

That’s right, three dots in a row.

Who cares?

Let me rephrase that: Seriously, who fucking cares?

And if someone cares, then why does s/he care?

Borrowed from The Book Designer

Borrowed from The Book Designer

The article describes in exhaustive detail the process of determining the amount of space between the dots and the size of the dots, and the how different fonts determine different shapes of dots (like anyone could tell) and how to code that into your book layouts, and why some ellipses look better than others and others are more functional from a layout point of view…

…!   [1]

But really it has to do with human nature. You and I may not care, may not see the need for the ultimate ellipsis, but some people do. And the incredible detail with which the creation of ellipses is described in this article is a metaphor that illustrates the human penchant for obsession. Whatever it is we choose to do, we often give the endeavor everything we’ve got, to the exclusion of all other matters, including, in this case, its relative value.

The perfect ellipsis? Can the world go on without this knowledge?

Often the most successful people in our society are the ones who obsess about whatever it is they do, in some blind pursuit of perfection or riches or power, be it directed towards scientific discovery or hitting a baseball or playing the piano or juggling chainsaws.

Obsession can be a great thing, but it is not necessarily a good thing. Obsession without talent and education leads to people who live with 85 cats or dig bomb shelters under their double-wides or create giant balls of string in their backyards. Somewhere in the thought process the obsession manages to block out rationality by disguising it as negativity.

Understanding the potentially obsessive aspect of our nature helps explain everything from our survival as a species, to competition, to great achievements, to murder, to war, to love, to the ability to finish a novel, to writing a blog every week, to… to…

…to our eventual self-destruction as a species?

All this, from a simple ellipsis.

A writer understands that. I wonder how many graphic designers do.


[1] You’ve maybe heard of the interrobang (?!). I shall call my creation an ellipsibang …!


About Joe Ponepinto

Co-publisher, with Kelly Davio, of Tahoma Literary Review. Author of "Curtain Calls," a featured Kirkus Review. Married to Dona. Dad to Henry, the coffee-drinkin' dog.


20 thoughts on “How an Ellipsis Illustrates Human Obsession…or Why I Quit a Career as a Graphic Artist to Become a Writer

  1. …and don’t EVEN go there when it comes to the FOUR dots….

    Posted by fpdorchak | November 2, 2013, 2:41 PM
  2. If you don’t write this story, someone will: two friends become mortal enemies as they delve deeper into their respective obsessions. One is a craftsman, whose monomania leads him to spiral into a level of detail that approaches the realm of quantum physics. The other is an artist, whose efforts to create one pure instance of truth and beauty brings him to the same place, but from a different direction, and that is why they will never be able to reconcile.

    Posted by Brian Santo | November 2, 2013, 4:06 PM
    • Ooh, not bad. It reminds of a story I read a few years ago in the New Yorker about craftsman who built models, and who kept building them smaller and smaller–perfect in scale, until they could no longer be seen.

      Posted by jpon | November 2, 2013, 8:30 PM
  3. Dear Joe, All I can say about this, you have already said funnier and better, so that I will only add,”Graphic arts’ loss re: Joe Ponepinto is our gain in the literary arts.” He-he! You gave me a real chuckle today, which I much needed.

    Posted by shadowoperator | November 2, 2013, 7:08 PM
    • Glad you liked it. I almost didn’t do this one, but had nothing else to write this week. Funny how that works out.

      Posted by jpon | November 2, 2013, 8:31 PM
  4. Here are some comments from Facebook friends: I hope they don’t mind, but I need to get my comments count up:

    Linda Anger: Love this, Joe Ponepinto! My business includes writing and book compositing (I was trained by a NYC book designer), and I agree with you completely.

    My favorite line: Whatever it is we choose to do, we often give the endeavor everything we’ve got, to the exclusion of all other matters, including, in this case, its relative value.

    Posted by jpon | November 2, 2013, 8:26 PM
  5. Aubreii Joy: I loved this, and it’s something I think about often. As a parent, whenever one of my kids shows a bit of ‘obsession’ when indulging in a hobby or exploring a new idea, I am secretly overjoyed. Part of me feels great things aren’t achieved until we are a little irrational in the pursuit of our goals, sometimes to the point where we seem crazy to those around us.

    Posted by jpon | November 2, 2013, 8:26 PM
  6. Linda Kimberly You’re a talented graphic artist Joe, and I enjoyed our projects together. Enjoy the writing! I’ll look for more.

    Posted by jpon | November 2, 2013, 8:27 PM
  7. Carol Brooks: Nice, thoughtful article, Joe. I have to admit I was kinda fascinated by the of minutiae of making the perfect elipsis. You don’t have to have OCD to be a graphic artist or proofreader, but it sure helps.

    Posted by jpon | November 2, 2013, 8:27 PM
  8. Nice post, Joe. Some valuable insights, especially about obsession leading to zealotry which is rarely ever a helpful phenomenon.

    Posted by Admin S. Traitor | November 3, 2013, 12:49 AM
  9. jeepers you’re a multi-talented person!

    Posted by Stephanie Barbé Hammer | November 3, 2013, 5:05 AM
    • Thanks, Stephanie. This post has turned out to be nostalgic. Two friends from SoCal I hadn’t communicated with in a long time commented on Facebook, and now… jeepers.

      Posted by jpon | November 3, 2013, 12:12 PM
  10. Only a writer’s mind could come up with this post. Really.

    Posted by Gwen Stephens | November 3, 2013, 11:39 AM
  11. I love the ellipsis. Almost as much as I love the em dash.

    When I worked in Corporate Land, my obsession was “the perfect sales proposal paragraph.” There are dozens of paragraphs in such a long and painful document, and it’s true that I obsessed over every last one of them and saved the “most perfect” ones in a file.

    So. The perfect sales proposal paragraph. In case you’re wondering, such a thing does exist. ;-)

    Posted by Teri | November 3, 2013, 12:39 PM
    • May I have a copy of that perfect sales proposal paragraph? I have some swamp land in Louisiana that I’m trying to unload.

      Posted by jpon | November 3, 2013, 12:53 PM
    • The em dash is my most favorite punctuation mark and often misused or sadly improperly displaced by the hyphen. But the ellipsis…I’m not a fan.

      Posted by Duke | November 3, 2013, 8:27 PM

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