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The Function of Ellipses in VNs


Zalor

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VNs sometimes get criticized for their overuse of the ellipse (…). And I suppose I'll start my defense of the use of ellipses in VNs, by extending an olive branch. VNs do misuse the ellipse to an astounding degree, and I have an interesting little anecdote demonstrating this point. In college, me and some friends decided to spend a Friday night getting drunk and reading the worst VNs we could find. We stumbled upon Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme. There is a LOT wrong with this VN, but a glaringly consistent detail of bad writing we all noticed was the excessive use of ellipses. After we all collectively noticed and pointed out how often ellipses were being used, we decided to start counting every instance of an ellipse we spotted. Keep in mind, they had already been used plenty before we even started to count. Before we even reached a total playtime of 1 hour, we counted over 100 uses of ellipses, and gave up counting after that. I share this anecdote for two reasons. Firstly, as a petty example that Gender Bender DNA Twister Extreme is horrible and I almost want to say it has no right to exist. And secondly that overall I am in agreement that ellipses do get misused often in VNs. So I am not entirely attacking this point of criticism, but I do think that many who do champion this specific criticism of VN writing miss one very important function that the ellipses achieves in VN writing, that it can't achieve in traditional print.

The written word as it is presented in VNs is transient. With each click you typically receive one line at a time. And after a certain point all the lines disappear and you are greeted with fresh words from the top of the screen if NVL, or the top of the dialogue box if ADV. Furthermore often (though not always), sentences aren't displayed whole at once. But rather they get displayed in a sort of typewriter effect. This means that regardless of whether the narrative is in past tense or present tense, the occurrence of the text and the story to the reader will always be in the present. Character dialogue, internal monologues, narrative descriptions, it is all being presented to us in real time.

A book on the other hand has everything written out and open to display. You can scan the whole page as well as the next page, and you have equal access to every page of the book at any given time. Want to skip to the ending? Well the medium can't stop you. This is not true of VNs. You can fast-forward, but you can't just skip to the end. The only way you can typically access specific parts of a VN is by creating a save point and therefore being able to load it up whenever you want. But you only have that option for everything you already read, you can't just pick and load sections you haven't experienced yet. Because for all intense and purposes, that's in the future. It hasn't happened yet. In other words, there is a sense of time in how the narrative of a VN gets expressed.

Well in VNs, the ellipse can be used to demarcate time and expression. In this way, VNs can literally show the passage of time, without having to tell it. And I always thought the golden rule of writing was “show don't tell”, in this function the ellipse is being used optimally to show and not tell.

Here is an example of how I would write a certain passage if I were writing it for a book/short-story, and then I will proceed to rewrite it for a VN.

 

Novel/Short-story:

“I don't know about that,” she briefly paused while biting her lip, “you sure it will be okay?”

Visual Novel coded in Renpy:

“I don't know about that...{w=1.5} you sure it will be okay?”

 

The {w=1.5} is a wait command in Renpy that pauses the text for 1.5 seconds before resuming the rest of the line. Without having to tell the reader “she briefly paused”, we literally showed the pause by manipulating the speed in which the text gets displayed. The ellipse helps signal to the reader that the character is hesitating to express her thoughts, while the {w=1.5} command is running in the background.

Now if the detail of “biting her lip” is also important to you. You would have to script things slightly differently, but you could make it that after the ellipse her sprite changes and bites her lip and you hold on that image for 1.5 seconds, before transitioning back to her previous expression and continue the text. So now you not only showed her hesitation and the gap in time it took for her to finish her thought, but you also showed her expression change. This is a way you can “show and not tell” with VNs that you could never achieve when writing for traditional print media.

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1 hour ago, Mr Poltroon said:

In your example, why use an ellipsis and not a comma whilst retaining the wait command?

Good question, and I would say the difference is in a subtle but significant effect. A comma is a pause represented by a single punctuation point. And it represents a complete, temporary pause. An ellipse on the other hand, at least to me, illicits a feeling of hesitation or tapering off. This is because instead of stopping suddenly, an elipse extends itself, its composed of multiple periods. For instance a comma is like turning a switch off, then on again. And an ellipse is like stopping a car, and then starting it again. It doesn't stop instantly but takes a couple of seconds to fight the momentum. And then you have to start it up again. Therefore there is something certain and almost forceful about a comma, but indecisive or vague about an ellipse. So if you want to convey an ambiguous pause, I feel like an ellipse is better suited. 

I suppose a specific example would be like this. If I wrote "hmm...", at least in my head I would continue pronouncing the lingering "mm" sound. To the point that if I wanted to technically convey how I pronounce "hmm..." without the ellipse, I would have to spell it it as "hmmmmmm". The ellipse is like hitting the break button, I don't pause immediately. But if I read "hmm," I literally stop my pronunciation after the second "m". Like a binary system of on and off, once I see that comma I fully stop, pause, and then continue. 

This is how I distinguish the two, but I could just be weird lol 

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And this point you made really shows the distinction between directing and writing. A way that was done that really stuck for me was that when i was playing Da Capo 2, the love interest got embarassed and instead of telling this through text, the VN only showed her changing sprites in quick sucession.

Edited by onorub
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27 minutes ago, onorub said:

And this point you made really shows the distinction between directing and writing. A way that was done that really stuck for me was that when i was playing Da Capo 2, the love interest got embarassed and instead of telling this through text, the VN only showed her changing sprites in quick sucession.

Yeah, clever manipulation of sprites is a strength VNs have in showing details. And when done well, I think its more effective then just telling it through text. Also, Dacapo 2 takes me back, I read it around 10 years ago when I was new to VNs. Anzu was my favorite girl back then. Which girl were you talking about? 

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27 minutes ago, Zalor said:

Yeah, clever manipulation of sprites is a strength VNs have in showing details. And when done well, I think its more effective then just telling it through text. Also, Dacapo 2 takes me back, I read it around 10 years ago when I was new to VNs. Anzu was my favorite girl back then. Which girl were you talking about? 

Pretty sure the girl on that scene was Otome.

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Elipsis shows a pregnant pause, it can show long hesitation, skeptism, disbelief, a flatlined joke. If used with an third party in a conversation, "..." in combination with a character sprite emphasizes the fact that they are silently observing. Often this means they saw an important but unpleasant detail.  "...!" shows surprise, positive or negative.

I really liked the use of non-dialogue in the work Mahou Shoujo. The text is almost completely dialogue, and so elipsis do a lot of heavy lifting. Also particular to that work is that the conversation beats are very pronounced.

Anyways, elipsis are concise, expressive, and can open new avenues to express dialogue beats. They do work a lot better with a character sprite though.

 

 

Edited by Chronopolis
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16 hours ago, Zakamutt said:

How many ellipses by % of charcount does this kamigay have? I think it might be as much as 5%

The real question is which abuses them more, Suba Hibi or Umineko

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I am a prolific abuser of ellipses myself.  I abuse them because... well, it is so easy to use them as a means of expression.  Emotion, humor, hesitation, etc.  These things can all be expressed in a wall of text to indicate the state of the writer's thoughts using an ellipses.

They are just so darned convenient.

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Do you recall this? Darbury once wrote about how much he hated ellipses and I thought at that time, well he might be right. But you provide a solid counterpoint: the fact that the text is not there all at once, but rather is shown through a typewriter effect, is a reason for a lot of the uses in ellipses. That's something to take into account, definitely.

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9 hours ago, Palas said:

Do you recall this? Darbury once wrote about how much he hated ellipses and I thought at that time, well he might be right. But you provide a solid counterpoint: the fact that the text is not there all at once, but rather is shown through a typewriter effect, is a reason for a lot of the uses in ellipses. That's something to take into account, definitely.

This was in very belated indirect response to him actually lol. His arguments in that post has been in the back of my head for a while, and recently I ran into it again by accident. Which prompted me to write this. So yeah you're right on the money! 

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Nice blog post! And for what it's worth, I've grown somewhat more tolerant of ellipses over the years. Have they worn me down? ...Maybe.

I suppose the key is using them with intentionality, and not as a typographical shrug that takes the place of finishing a thought or properly punctuating a sentence. To your point, it's hard for an ellipsis to do the important work of demarcating time when those same three dots are also being employed in a dozen other pointless odd-jobs throughout the text.

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9 hours ago, Darbury said:

Nice blog post! And for what it's worth, I've grown somewhat more tolerant of ellipses over the years. Have they worn me down? ...Maybe.

I suppose the key is using them with intentionality, and not as a typographical shrug that takes the place of finishing a thought or properly punctuating a sentence. To your point, it's hard for an ellipsis to do the important work of demarcating time when those same three dots are also being employed in a dozen other pointless odd-jobs throughout the text.

Thank you! I'm glad to hear that you've softened up on them a bit. And I am in huge agreement that they should be used purposefully, and not just lazily thrown in. Which unfortunately you do see a lot of the latter in many VNs. 

Ultimately I see them as a kind of spice. If used sparingly, but effectively they can have a nice effect on the meal. But if poured excessively partly to cover up how unflavorful the dish is, well it doesn't really improve anything lol

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