FENTANYL – The Good and The Bad!

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid that is utilized in medical practice as a powerful pain reliever. It’s most commonly used in clinical settings either prior to surgery to induce sedation before administering longer-lasting sedation or in the recovery room following surgery for immediate pain relief. Fentanyl is very potent and effective to relieve pain, but it has a short duration of action—one to two hours at most, and often less than one hour.

The drug is also used to relieve extreme pain outside of the clinical setting via a drug patch applied to the skin. This transdermal patch slowly releases fentanyl over a 72-hour period. When I practiced pharmacy in an out-patient setting, a significant number of patients came to my homecare services sporting fentanyl patches as part of their overall pain relief plan while our nursing support administered intravenous medications for a variety of ailments that caused the extreme pain.

As commonly as fentanyl is in both the clinical and non-clinical settings, its reputation has taken on a more ominous one as a “filler” to “cut” heroin as well as other opioid and some non-opioid drugs. Over the last few years, fentanyl has been found as a filler in the party drug cocaine, and this is considered by drug law enforcement as a “game-changer.”

Courtesy of the New Hampshire State Police Forensics Lab

The reason for this enhanced apprehensiveness is somewhat complex, but a central concern is why people abuse heroin vs cocaine and the type of users who abuse these drugs. Heroin, an opioid from the poppy flower plant, is a depressant drug. Heroin is the type of drug that gives a sustained “buzz” and a heroin abuser often has a greater tolerance to opioid drugs. Although fentanyl-laced heroin is an extremely dangerous combination, drug overdoses have not been as extreme as in cases of fentanyl being added to cocaine.

Cocaine is a stimulant drug, a non-opiate from the coca plant, that gives a short-term euphoric effect—thus, its popularity as a party drug. When fentanyl is mixed into cocaine, that becomes the “game-changer,” as law enforcement agencies suggest. Cocaine users are more casual drug abusers, with a lesser chance of long-term addiction. The addition of fentanyl changes those dynamics, and that becomes a lethal combination.

Now it appears that drug-using party animals who use cocaine casually and occasionally have become unsuspecting victims with the progression of fentanyl into street drug mixes.

A 2016 study of overdose deaths in New York City revealed that 44% of the 1,300 overdose deaths involved fentanyl and 37% of those OVERALL overdose deaths involved a fentanyl-cocaine mix—that’s 84% of the lethal overdoses that involved fentanyl and that represents an increase of 11% over the previous year.

Synthetic opioids, such as fentanyl, are cheap to make, are easily available on the dark web and become extraordinarily profitable for illicit drug distributers. Heroin-fentanyl on the street costs a fraction of what prescription painkillers cost on the street. Although much focus has been given recently in news broadcasts regarding prescription opiate abuse and overdoses, most of the deaths are seen with illicit opiate abuse—as with the synthetic opioid fentanyl and fentanyl-laced street drugs.

Fentanyl is an extremely potent and dangerous drug when not used properly. Although heroin is about three times more potent than morphine (the so-called “standard” used for pain-relieving drug potency), fentanyl is up to 100 times more potent than morphine.

The initial symptoms of an overdose include pinpoint pupils, muscle weakness, dizziness and confusion. The symptoms progress to a profound decrease in heart rate and very low blood pressure, with eventual loss of consciousness. Extreme respiratory depression and a dangerously slow heart beat lead to lack of oxygen to the brain (and potentially lethal hypoxia) that can exhibit as permanent brain damage.

If your next storyline involves a drug overdose, a fentanyl-laced drug might be an interesting and timely addition to consider.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

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Peyote and My Short Story

Years ago, I contributed a short story to a Christmas anthology that a friend was publishing. My piece was named “Santa’s Secret Helper” and it was a rather hilarious (and irreverent) take on what can go wrong when a curmudgeon drinks the wrong kind of tea and has a personality change for the better during the Christmas season. As you can imagine, the central premise involved a drug misadventure. I may re-publish it as a series of blogs closer to Christmas for your entertainment.

Recently, I pulled that short story out of my writing archives and attempted to revive it with a fresh plot twist and with a more South Texas theme. The story is in the editing phase now, is much longer than the original, and I use San Antonio’s Fiesta events as the central backdrop setting. Even the drug misadventure has a more South Texas twist, and the drug of choice I’m using is peyote.

Peyote is a small cactus plant that commonly grows wherever the ground is rich in limestone. It can be found predominantly in the southwest areas of Texas and Mexico. The flowered “buttons” of the plant contain a psychoactive alkaloid called mescaline that produces a wide range of psychological effects, including deep insight into one’s spiritual side, when crushed and made into a tea.

Native Americans and indigenous people of Northern Mexico used the plant in tribal rituals dating back almost 6,000 years. As part of the assimilation programs run by the US government up to the early 1900s, peyote was made illegal among Native American tribes. However, after winning a series of religious freedom cases and the restoration of the Religious Freedom Act of 1993, peyote use for religious practices was made legal again—in all 50 states. It should be noted, though, that present state laws may vary regarding the plant’s legality for use in tribal religious rituals.

Currently, peyote is considered an endangered plant, and selling illegally poached plants are on the rise. For that reason, this plant made a perfect drug component for the misadventure in my updated short story.

I needed a drug that produced an evolving personality change in the character, caused a moderate amount of physiological distress when too much was used, and I wanted the drug disguised enough in a tea that the misuse would not be noticed until it was too late. Peyote was the perfect choice.

Traditional peyote used in tribal ceremonies is said to restore balance among the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual aspects of an individual—when used in minute amounts under relatively controlled conditions, that is.

The immediate effects include emotional changes that increase self-awareness, encourage honest communication with others and produce profound introspection. The drug’s hallucinogenic qualities are reported to enhance interconnectedness with nature, oneself and with other people.

Like many drugs that have entered the spotlight for recreational abuse, peyote (or more specifically, its psychoactive component mescaline) has been used therapeutically. Peyote was used in the past for treating fevers, joint pain, skin wounds and snakebites.

A full dose (about six peyote buttons) produces somewhere between 200 to 400mgs of mescaline. Peak hallucinogenic effects occur about two to four hours after ingestion and they last for eight to twelve hours.

Many experience some nausea and other gastrointestinal discomfort within 30 minutes after ingestion. Sweating and/or chills have been reported as well. After about one or two hours, however, the physiological distress is replaced by a sense of calm and openness.

Peyote was the perfect drug for my story! I’m developing a series of such short stories, when I need a break from novel writing, and I hope to publish that collection sometime next year.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

Posted in A How To Blog on Murder Plot Ideas, A Mystery Short Story, A Non-Murder Plot, About Ancient Forgotten Cures, About Medications/Pharmacy, Ancient Curing Potions, Blog Writers, Blogging, Chemical Poisons, Chemicals Used For Murder, Christmas Anthology, Christmas Short Stories, Deadly Plant Poisons, Designing Murder Plots, Developing Story Arcs, Developing Story Plots, Developing Storyline Ideas, Dramatic Murder Weapons, Drug Abuse, Drug Misadventures, Drug Poisoning, Drugs and Amnesia, Drugs For Murder Plots, Drugs Used For Murder, Growing As A Writer, Hallucinogenic Drugs, How to Choose a Murder Weapon for a Plot Idea, Ideas for Murder Scenes, Interesting Murder Weapons, James J. Murray Blog, Lethal Botanicals, Medical Research on Psychedelic Drugs, Mescaline, Misuse of Drugs, Murder Mayhem and Medicine, Murder Weapons Discussed, Murder With Drugs, New Blog, New Methods of Murder, New Uses for Old Drugs, Peyote, Peyote and Tribal Rituals, Pharmacy/Pharmaceuticals, Plant Poisons, Plants That Kill, Plants Used For Murder, Plotting Interesting Murder Scenes, Poisonous Plants, Prescription For Murder Blog, Psychedelic Drugs, Psychoactive Designer Drugs, Psychotropic Botanicals, Santa's Secret Helper, Short Stories of Suspense and Mystery, Short Story Development, Unique Murder Plots, Unique Murder Weapons, Writing Dramatic Murder Scenes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ricin – A Most Lethal Weapon

I was shopping with a friend recently and she had castor oil on her grocery list. That gave me pause. From my early days as a retail pharmacist, I remembered that castor oil was sold over the counter as a laxative. Today, there are more effective and safer laxatives on the market.

As I questioned her about her choice, she said that she used castor oil on her skin to remove blemishes that crop up from time to time. That reminded me that castor oil was used long ago to soften dry skin and to moisturize hair, also uses that have gone out of favor for more effective and safer products.

At any rate, I went in search of castor oil, but found it difficult to find. Even the pharmacist on duty scratched his head at my request, “In what aisle would I find castor oil?” It was indeed stocked in his store—in a section that should have been labeled “and everything else that no one knows what to do with.”

Since becoming a murder mystery writer, I’ve learned that the castor bean is the primary source of the chemical ricin and have done research about using this chemical in a storyline as a weapon of mass destruction.

Ricin is one of the most poisonous chemicals on Earth. It’s a highly lethal poison found naturally in castor beans and there is no known antidote.

The chemical ricin is a naturally occurring protein from the castor oil plant. It’s extracted from the waste matter (called the “mash”) left over from processing castor beans into castor oil. FORTUNATELY (for my friend at least), the toxic protein is denatured and deactivated during the heating process to extract the oil.

Ricin can be removed from castor beans, however, and made into a powder, a mist, a pellet, or it can be dissolved in water.

It’s important to point out that commercial castor oil contains NONE of the toxic proteins from the mash and is a safe product to use.

The only uses that I found for ricin extracted from the waste mash were as an experimental drug to kill cancer cells (still only experimental) and for use as a chemical weapon!

The medium lethal oral dose of ricin is a little over 3mg. That means a dose of pure ricin about the size of a few grains of table salt can kill an adult human. If the chemical is injected or inhaled, the dose is even lower, about 1.5mg to kill a 150-lb adult. It’s been said that a lethal dose of castor seeds for adults is about four to eight seeds.

As with most chemicals, various factors determine how sick a person will become when exposed, and if it will be fatal. These include how much ricin a person is exposed to, how long the exposure lasts, and what exposure method is used. For instance, inhalation and injection are almost always fatal, but ingestion may only make a person extremely sick, especially if medical support is rapidly provided.

The purity of ricin can also significantly affect how lethal a dose is. When the chemical is purified by special, technically advanced processes, the substance is deadlier than “back kitchen” processing.

Ricin kills by infecting our cellular structures and blocking their ability to synthesize their own proteins. When a cell cannot make protein, key bodily functions shut down and progressive organ failure usually results in death. Even when a person survives ricin poisoning, permanent organ damage often results.

The progression to death is extremely unpleasant. Usually, humans exposed to a lethal oral dose will experience severe vomiting and diarrhea within six hours of exposure and this results in serious dehydration. Eventually, the kidneys, liver and pancreas fail. Death follows soon after.

Inhalation of ricin, on the other hand, produces different effects since the poison interacts with other body parts. Inhaled ricin causes a vicious, bloody cough and the lungs fill with fluid. Eventually, the lungs become so fluid filled that the victim loses the ability to breathe. In effect, the person drowns in the body’s own fluids.

Lethal doses of ricin that are injected usually result in intense flu-like symptoms, swelling around the injection site, and eventual progressive organ failure as the poison circulates throughout the body.

Death from inhalation or injection occurs in about three to five days after contact, but it could be as rapid as 36 to 72 hours. And the death is an agonizing one.

Unfortunately, various techniques for making this poison are readily available on the Internet, and periodically this method of murder is used in terror plots against government or corporate personnel. Therefore, murder by ricin can be categorized as a murder “ripped from the headlines,” making it an interesting and often used lethal weapon on TV, in the movies and in novels.

Of course, if you’ve been reading my past blogs, you’ll realize that there are much more imaginative methods for killing off characters in your novels, and I’ll discuss more of them in future blogs.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

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INFLAMMATION – A Healer or A Killer?

We’ve all experienced inflammation in our bodies. We get a paper cut and a finger becomes inflamed at that spot—it seems for days on end—before healing. We twist an ankle and the area becomes red and swollen (inflamed); but a little ice, rest, elevation and over time the area is as good as new.

In this sense, inflammation is a good thing. It’s the body’s natural defense and indicates a healthy immune system response when injuries or infections occur.

But what happens when our WHOLE BODY becomes inflamed? I’m not talking about an autoimmune disease that exhibits itself in specific areas of the body—such as psoriasis, celiac disease, or rheumatoid arthritis—and makes itself known for all to see, a sort of medical shout out that says, “Look here! This is runaway inflammation.”

I’m talking about a silent killer—chronic inflammation. Recently, I had a routine medical check-up with my primary care physician and, as part of the process, blood was drawn and specific lab results were reported. One of the things my doctor looked at was my C-reactive protein lab result. He was happy to see it within normal limits and made sure to comment on that since that’s an indicator of chronic infection and one of the indicators for heart disease.

For many years, cardiologists have focused on heart disease as a plumbing repair issue—clogged arteries due to cholesterol build-up that narrows and then blocks those arteries near the heart must be cleared. In the early years of modern cardiac disease management, it was believed that the cholesterol we eat caused the build-up in our arteries.

In later years, it was discovered that certain fats we eat (saturated fats and trans fats, specifically) caused the body to make much more cholesterol than necessary. Hence, the popularity of cholesterol-lowering drugs such as Lipitor and the advancement of procedures to unblock clogged arteries. In this sense, cardiologists became sophisticated “Roto-Rooter” plumbers.

Recently, a series of interesting articles reported an evolving science that indicates there is much more involved regarding cardiac disease than the idea of clogged pipes (arteries).

The studies that shed light on this evolving science indicate that a possible primary cause of coronary artery disease is chronic inflammation—a so-called systemic inflammation that causes scar tissue in our arteries that begin to trap fatty particles (cholesterol) from our blood. That’s why my physician was happy to see my C-reactive protein lab result within normal limits.

Presently, there is a clinical trial of a new drug called Canakinumab, a drug that reduces systemic—or low-grade, total body—inflammation. The clinical trial is called the Canakinumab Anti-Inflammatory Thrombosis Outcomes Study (CANTOS). The study results indicate that this drug lowers heart attack risks independent of cholesterol-lowering medications, like the statin drug Lipitor.

Patients on Canakinumab experienced an astounding 30% decrease in the need for invasive and expensive bypass surgeries and angioplasty procedures. This represents a whole new level of cardiac disease prevention and brings in a third tier of heart attack prevention (the first two measures being the importance of diet and exercise, and then the additional layer of protection with cholesterol-lowering statin drugs).

An interesting additional benefit of this drug was a documented decrease in cancer risk by 50%. Researchers now question if the idea of reducing systemic inflammation throughout the body may not only prevent the onset of cardiac disease but also become a cancer prevention measure. This has stimulated a whole new area of cancer research, but it’s too early to get excited about that possibility at this point.

It should be noted that since Canakinumab lowers the body’s immune system response, this drug may have a detrimental effect by increasing the risk of common infections becoming more serious, and even fatal, events. So, the benefits of this new therapy will have to outweigh the possible disadvantages, and further research may discover ways to minimize the infection-related risks.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

Posted in About James J. Murray, About Medications/Pharmacy, Advances in Cardiac Medicine, Blog Writers, Blogging, Canakinumab, Developing Technologies, James J. Murray Blog, Murder Mayhem and Medicine, New Blog, New Drug Discoveries, New Drug Research, New Research Technology, New Treatment for Chronic Inflammation, Non-Compliance to Prescription Therapies, Pharmacy/Pharmaceuticals, Prescription For Murder Blog, Systemic Inflammation Treatments, The Practice of Pharmacy, Whole Body Inflammation | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Using Bacteria for Weight Control

Since I have a Master’s Degree in Nutrition, I was asked by my running club to give a talk this week to our training teams. The subject is proper nutrition for the long-distance runner. While researching information for that talk, I came across an interesting article in the New York Times.

The article stated that the types and amounts of bacteria we have in our intestinal tract help determine if we become fat or remain thin.

It’s an interesting concept to imagine—that we might be able to manipulate intestinal microbes to prevent obesity.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog about just such a subject and I’d like to share that information with you again because it seems to be gaining credibility in the scientific world of weight loss techniques.

The current belief is that being overweight is simply a math issue. If you consume more calories than you use, you gain weight. If you consume fewer calories than needed, you lose weight. The science is simple, but the execution of that is more difficult—for instance, I can never resist a piece of chocolate cake!

Now we may have a better answer. In 2005, Dr. Jeffery Gordon of Washington University in St. Louis began to investigate the relationship between diet, gut microbial ecology and obesity. By using mice in experiments, he found that the two main intestinal bacteria in mice are the same as in the human intestinal tract: Firmicutes and Baceroidetes.

As his research progressed, he discovered that obese mice had a greater amount of Firmicutes bacteria, while thin mice had more Bacteroidetes bacteria.

Armed with this information, the research team gathered two sets of germ-free mice and infected one group with microbes taken from obese mice and infected the other group with bacteria from leaner mice. Both groups were fed the exact same diet.

The results showed that the mice given bacteria from the obese mice gained excessive weight. Specifically, two weeks after exposure to the obese mice bacteria, this group had a 47 percent increase in body fat. Conversely, the group of mice infected with bacteria from the thin group had only a 27 percent increase in body fat.

These results suggest that specific microbes absorb more energy from food and that the microbial mix in our GI tract determines if we gain weight.

In layman’s terms, the microbes associated with obesity required little food and energy to reproduce and thus transferred more calories to the host (more than the host needed to maintain weight).

In contrast, microbes that kept the mice thin required far more calories to survive, leaving less for the host mice to process and use for energy. Therefore, these mice remained thin.

These studies, although still difficult to extrapolate to humans at this point, suggest that one person might have bacteria in their intestinal tracts that consume more calories, leaving that person thinner. Whereas, another person might have a different bacterial mix and gain weight by consuming similar daily calories.

The studies make a strong argument that one day we might maintain our optimal weight simply by adjusting the microbes in our intestinal tracts.

The thought of having a second piece of chocolate cake without having to worry about gaining weight absolutely makes me smile—and it makes me hungry for a piece of that cake!

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

Posted in About James J. Murray, About Medications/Pharmacy, Baceroidetes Bacteria, Baceroidetes Bacterial Studies, Bacteria and Obesity, Bacteria for Weight Control, Blog Writers, Blogging, Designer Diets, Firmicutes Bacteria, Firmicutes Bacterial Studies, Friendly Bacteria, GI Tract Bacteria and Obesity, Gut Bacteria For Weight Control, Gut Microbiomes and Obesity, Human Enterotypes, Intestinal Bacteria and Obesity, Intestinal Bacteria and Weight Control, Intestinal Microbes and Obesity, Intestinal Microbes and Weight Control, Intestinal Microbes to Control Weight, James J. Murray Blog, New Blog | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Scientists Question New York’s Crime Lab DNA Analysis

Many thrillers and murder mysteries rely on some aspect of DNA evidence to solve the crime. This is true in the make-believe world of written fiction as well as in movies and television. Certainly, it is true in the real world of forensics.

So, I was fascinated to read an article in the New York Times about two generally-accepted DNA analysis methods being called into question.

Earlier this year, the DNA laboratory in the office of New York City’s chief medical examiner discontinued using two methods of “high-sensitivity testing” of trace amounts of DNA. These methods of analysis had been used for years and were considered cutting edge science by many. These methods were said to go beyond even the standards set by the FBI and other public labs for trace evidence.

These unique analysis techniques allowed for DNA identification from microscopic samples of evidence and even for separation of DNA that contained a mix of more than one person’s genetic material. As the city’s lab reputation spread, more than 50 jurisdictions, besides the New York police department, used the lab to process DNA samples, and this included the FBI.

In a statement to the professional community, the city’s lab replaced the old analytical techniques with “newer and more broadly used technology.” The medical examiner’s office stood by the science of these discarded techniques, and considered them well-tested and valid. The reported reason for the change was to adopt to newer methods that were “more aligned with changing FBI standards.”

This change, however, has initiated an inquiry by a coalition of defense lawyers. The coalition recently requested the New York State inspector general’s office to launch an investigation to determine if the previous—and now discarded—DNA analysis techniques were flawed.

Such an inquiry, if it goes forward, could put into question the outcomes of thousands of criminal cases in which the DNA analysis methods were used to gather incriminating evidence.

The Legal Aid Society and the Federal Defenders of New York informed the inspector general that they now question the medical examiner’s office lab results in numerous previous cases. Their statements implied that the medical examiner’s office engaged in neglectful conduct that undermined the integrity of conventional DNA testing with these previously unproven analytic methods. If an eventual investigation proves that flaws existed in the previous DNA testing methodology, this could prompt a tsunami of litigation to overturn and/or reconsider previous convictions.

One specific trial could become a test case for the legal defense community. DNA from the beating of Taj Patterson in December of 2013 was tested using the disputed techniques. A group of Hasidic men attacked Mr. Patterson in Brooklyn. Six days after the attack, the police found one of Mr. Patterson’s shoes on a nearby roof.

This shoe was sent to the New York DNA lab and technicians recovered a minute amount of DNA from two people. Using software developed by the lab, it was determined that most of the DNA belonged to a young father who lived and worked in Brooklyn near where the attack took place.

The man had no criminal record, no other defendants were identified and no other physical evidence linked the man to the attack on Mr. Patterson; but, the man was convicted for gang assault by the judge and sentenced to four years in prison. The man’s attorney is appealing the conviction and the potential for flawed DNA evidence will likely be used in this appeal.

If the defendant’s appeal is successful with arguments to throw out the DNA analysis, it could call into question almost 3,500 other cases in which both of the discarded trace analysis techniques were used as evidence of criminal wrongdoing.

I was thinking what an interesting plot twist this would make for a murder mystery in which the perpetrator gets off scot-free because of perceived flaws in previous DNA testing.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

Posted in A How To Blog on Murder Plot Ideas, About James J. Murray, Blog Writers, Blogging, Designing Murder Plots, Developing Story Plots, Developing Storyline Ideas, DNA Testing Flaws, DNA Testing Tainted, DNA Testing Techniques Called Into Question, Fiction Based on Facts, Fiction Based on Real Life, Fiction Writing - A Believable Lie, Flaws in High Sensitivity DNA Testing Techniques, James J. Murray Blog, New Blog, New Research Technology, New York Crime Lab Crisis, Plot Development, Plot Ideas and Where They Come From, Story Development, Taj Patterson Case Appeal, Taj Patterson Trail, The Science of Murder, Unique Murder Plots | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Commas, Em Dashes, and Ellipses—Their Proper Use!

In a recent blog, I discussed how to properly use the three types of dashes in writing.

Today, I’d like to further the discussion on punctuation marks, namely those used specifically to clarify or to emphasize a point. They are the comma, the Em dash and the ellipsis—the plural being “ellipses.” Sometimes, these three punctuation types are used interchangeably in modern writing, both in dialogue and narration, but there are specific rules for their use.

The question I present is this. Is their use solely at the discretion of the writer . . . or should the precise rules of language be followed? Let’s take a closer look at the three punctuation marks in question before forming any conclusions.

The Comma: The comma is used to separate elements within a sentence. It’s often said that anytime the writer intends the reader to break for a breath, that’s where a comma should be placed. But people breathe at different times when reading the same sentences, so that rule doesn’t hold up. For today’s discussion, a comma is used to separate phrases that intend to clarify previous words (such as, “He was a handsome fellow, with hair the color of gold.”).

However, the comma often doesn’t create the emphasis or drama that a writer needs to convey, and that’s where the next two punctuation marks are used more effectively.

The Em Dash: Most grammatical rulebooks indicate that the em dash is used as an interruption in dialogue or to emphasize a phrase in both dialogue and narration. It’s a much stronger punctuation mark than the comma but less formal than a colon, and it’s a more relaxed form of punctuation than the more technical use of a set of parentheses to explain or emphasize a specific point (such as, “He was a handsome fellow—with hair the color of gold that shimmered like the setting sun.”).

The em dash creates more drama and can be used as a strong aside in narrative (such as, “He was a handsome fellow—with god-like golden hair that turned every eye in a room he entered.”), or used for dramatic interruption of speech (such as, “He was a handsome fellow—I’m sorry, I know talking about him makes you feel uncomfortable.”). For a more in-depth description of em dashes, please refer to my recent blog on the types of dashes.

The Ellipsis: The use of ellipses denotes a small pause (“He was a handsome fellow . . . with great hair.”), a stutter (“This guy was . . . so . . . so handsome.”) or for dialogue and narrative that trails off (“When this guy walked in that room, it was like everyone turned and . . .”).

Some of the most heated discussions that writers have involve the distinction and proper use of em dashes vs ellipses, but the rules are quite clear. Ellipses are reserved for when the writer wants the reader to momentarily pause or for phrases that trail off. The complete thought, whether it is in dialogue or narration, is not stated but the meaning is understood never the less.

An ellipsis is always three dots, no more and no less. Style guidelines vary as to whether or not to use an ending period if the ellipsis comes at the end of a sentence. Most guidelines are satisfied with no final period.

And there is an on-going discussion as to specifically how ellipses are presented, depending on if the writer follows the Associated Press (AP) style or the Chicago style.

The AP style of ellipsis consists of three non-spaced periods, with a space before and after (“He was a handsome fellow … with such golden hair.”). The AP style often is referred to as a closed ellipsis. This contrasts to the Chicago style that presents as three spaced periods, with spacing before and after (“He was a handsome fellow . . . with such golden hair.”).

And then there’s the complication that arises in modern literature where we see more use of the AP style without the spacing before and after (“He was a handsome fellow…with such golden hair.”), but the rules in both the AP and Chicago styles are clear about using spacing before and after the three-dot ellipsis.

Grammatical rules assure that uniform guidelines are followed so that the reader’s experience is all about focusing on the story rather than about negotiating unique writing styles. I should point out, however, that many writers have been successful with unique styles of writing.

Although there may be established sentence structure rules, individual styles of writing sometimes preclude the rules. Above all, a GREAT WRITER is consistent with his or her punctuation style to enhance the reader’s experience and to avoid unnecessary grammatical distractions.

Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!

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