WRITING: Parentheticals: do they still exist?

My vote would be “yes.” But what’s the general consensus? I suspect that the official line outside of academia (or even inside it) is that we must avoid them whenever possible, as they complicate a sentence. I feel that they can be very useful as a part of an author’s voice, and I think a lot of writers are missing out on the potential for humor that they allow (when you’re writing humor, I mean. And maybe even when you aren’t!)

I’d like to open a dialogue and see what people say about parentheticals, although I suspect that many students nowadays would say the equivalent of, “We don’t see them in published fiction; ergo, they no longer exist.” Obviously, I don’t believe that.

Earlier, I wrote:

It’s depressing to see the errors in published novels and all those howlers (including misplaced modifiers on the level of, “Turning the corner, the house was ablaze.”) In the journals/blogs of best-selling writers are mistakes in word usage, spelling, and punctuation that they should know better than to be making.

Sosoclever suggested I rework it:

Just a suggestion (cleaning up the punctuation and trying to make it flow more smoothly):
It’s depressing to see the errors (howlers like the infamous misplaced modifier — “Turning the corner, the house was ablaze.”) in published novels. In their journals and ‘blogs, best-selling writers routinely make mistakes in word usage, spelling, and punctuation that they should know better than to be making.

I see this as a reworking more than a clean-up. Laying aside for the moment the claim that the original is not properly punctuated (because I believe that it is; the only question might be whether the comma after “level of” is needed, and most style manuals confirm that it always is), let’s look at the question of flow.

All right, what are the differences in “voice” (as nebulous as voice IS) between these two passages? What kind of change does the em-dash make? I would substitute a colon for that em-dash, because it introduces an example. But I suppose that in modern prose, you DO see the em-dash being used more often. (When you read some antique letters, you see em-dashes between just about every sentence. It was a popular style then, too.)

We’re seeing parentheticals fall by the wayside because people are apparently getting taught that they’re difficult to parse, but I hate to see a great tradition dropped when it’s not difficult to parse them–with a bit of experience. Readers aren’t getting that experience because some time ago the edict came down that we mustn’t complicate our sentences, and the first thing we should do is minimize parenthetical phrases. So we don’t SEE parentheticals . . . and we begin to lose them.

I don’t think that in novel writing we ought to use them a lot, but in informal writing I think it adds a certain stream-of-consciousness flavor. It’s just a personal preference, but I think it flows BETTER when people insert the parenthetical where it occurs to them. You can’t generally do that recursively (by which I mean something like this (wherein we have parentheticals within parentheticals (which could get silly–that’s what I was getting at by mentioning their potential in humorous writing) (Dave Barry used to do this a lot))), but I don’t believe they’re ruinous to a piece.

What buoys me about getting a comment like this, though, are the thoughts that (a) somebody was interested enough to work on something I wrote and open a dialogue, which seems to me the entire point of having a public forum such as this, and (b) others out there are instinctive editors like me! I find myself rephrasing things I read, too. I believe that’s helpful because it becomes second nature, and you use it when you revise your own work.

On the other hand, when your natural voice and style is not much like the one that currently dominates the market, that makes it tougher to place a novel or story. Perhaps the way it’s supposed to work is that you read the books that are currently popular and ABSORB their style, but people like us (natural editors, that is–and we also have to have a lot of confidence in our own style) tend to rewrite the stuff that strikes us as clunky or bland. I think my prose style can be a little chicklitty, which works against me with editors who have stopped buying chick lit. It can also be a little complex, which works against me with people like my sister-in-law, who once said, “The most important thing about a book is that it be easy to read, and not something that you have to think much about.”

It was also mentioned [PASSIVE VOICE ALERT, for those of you keeping track, but passive voice is not against the law in America–at least not YET *grin*] that my original paragraph would have been cooler with some witty or acerbic comment to wrap it up. I decided to just leave the passage alone so it would end with a generally dejected tone. Also, because I’m not a published author who should be held to a higher standard, I didn’t bother to make something up. *grin* Also, I was too lazy to think up anything scintillating. *WINK*

Smileys (or smilies) (no, that looks even ODDER) and written-out smileys are good to use in journal posts, because they let people know you’re not being deadly serious, even if your body language can’t come across with the bitstream. But don’t use ’em in business writing. Unless you really know your manager well, and she uses them herself! *GRIN*


Author: shalanna

Shalanna: rhymes with "Madonna" and "I wanna," and is not a soundalike with "Hosanna" or "Sha-Na-Na." Aging hippie with long hair, husband, elderly mother, and yappy Pomeranian. I've been writing since I could hold a crayon. I started with fiction, which Mama said was "lying." “Don’t tell stories,” she would admonish, in Southern vernacular. “That's all in your imagination!” When grownups said this, they were not approving. So, shamed, I stopped telling stories for a few years--rather, I stopped letting anyone read them. I'm married to a fellow computer nerd who doesn't really like hearing about writing, but who reads sf/fantasy and understands the creative drive. I'm actually a nonconformist/hippie still wearing bluejeans and drop earrings and the Alice-in-Wonderland hair with headbands and sandals. Favorite flavor is chocolate/orange, favorite color is either Dreamsicle orange (cantaloupe) or bubble-gum pink, favorite musical is either Bye Bye Birdie, Rocky Horror, or The Producers . . . wait, I also love The Music Man. Is this getting way too specific and irrelevant yet? Obvious why I don't sell a ton of flash fiction, isn't it? To define oneself, I always say, it is good to make a list. How about a booklist? Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird Frank and Ernestine Gilbreth, Cheaper by the Dozen C.S.Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (all the Narnia books) J.R.R.Tolkien,The Hobbit/LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy Gail Godwin, The Odd Woman F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby J. D. Salinger, Catcher in the Rye (before dismissing it, actually read it) George Orwell, 1984 Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle Donna Tartt, The Secret History Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn James Allen, As A Man Thinketh Mark Winegardner, Elvis Presley Boulevard James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times The Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum Winnie-the-Pooh/House at Pooh Corner, A. A. Milne Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie The KJV and NIV Bible (each translation has its glories)

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