Can I use "etc." or "et cetera" in a short story?
Published: July 19, 2012
Q: Can I use “etc.” or “et cetera” in a short story?
A: The abbreviation “etc.” stands for et cetera, which means “and so forth” or “and others of the same kind.” I could see some possible uses for this in narrative. Some are perfectly acceptable. You might have a character who has a tendency to use this term when speaking:
“I’m not fibbing. We were on that boat for days and there were plenty of fish in that lake—trout, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, walleye, et cetera.”
Or a character might reference an email, memo or other document:
It’s not like the boss was all that original. The last company-wide email ended like this: “We’ll have to put our noses to the grindstone, keep our heads down, give it our all, etc.”
You shouldn’t use it in place of concrete and evocative description:
The office was poorly lit by one fluorescent light, the cushions of the chairs were flattened and frayed, the phone was a rotary dial, etc.
This use is lazy. The author wants to suggest additional details of age without having to do the work of evoking them.
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Brandi Reissenweber teaches fiction writing and reading fiction at Gotham Writers' Workshop and authored the chapter on characterization in Gotham's Writing Fiction: The Practical Guide
. Her work has been published in numerous journals, including
Phoebe, North Dakota Quarterly and
was a James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow at the Wisconsin Institute for
Creative Writing and has taught fiction at New York University,
University of Wisconsin and University of Chicago. Currently, she is a
visiting professor at Illinois Wesleyan University.