Abstract Academic: Writing (parenthetically)

Peer critiquing in the college creative writing process is a double-edged sword. On one hand (this is a double-edged metaphor), someone will pick up your whimpering, fledgling little creation that you painstakingly crafted and politely tell you it is total donkey compost. On the other hand (edge), you get to voraciously tear through another student’s creation, thus validating your own weaknesses.

On the last occasion, I was told by my peer critic, Steve, that my frequent use of parentheses (they look like this (parentheses)) was distracting and, ultimately, bad writing. Naturally, I reacted very well to this criticism, and did not in any way lash out against my peer (suck on this, Steve-Who-Doesn’t-Have-His-Own-Column!).

To graciously counter his points, I would like to demonstrate the effective uses of parentheses (1. like this), and hopefully lead the reader to the larger philosophical question: Does a true artist learn the rules and zealously adhere to them, thus creating artistic perfection, or does the artist learn the rules and then knowingly bulldoze them?

(Obviously, the point I’m going to lead you to is that he bulldozes them, but you should stick around anyway; it gets good.)

Parentheses are enormously useful, despite being a funny word that sounds like the name of a Greek warrior (have you ever noticed that Greek names sound a lot like parts of the anatomy? “Doctor, I fell on my Hippolytus, and I think it gave my Orpheus fissures”). They can be used to frame the thoughts and freeze the surroundings of a main character, as utilized by Zach Braff (in Scrubs), Mark-Paul Gosselaar (in Saved By the Bell) and Hamlet (in Macbeth).

Those curvy little lines are also very useful when inserting non sequitur material into writing (a non sequitur is a statement that does not follow logically from what preceded it; so, actually, this parenthetical tangent is not a good example of it). Let me try that again (Donald Trump has awful hair!).

They are used in math to let you know what part of the problem to read first (parentheses indicate the first step in the order of operations. Do not read the non-parenthesized segment of this sentence, because it will be redundant and you will have wasted your time. If you knew what you were doing, you would have read this and realized that).

Parentheses can be distracting (die, Steve, die!) on occasion, but they can also be crucial to a piece of good literature. For instance, D. H. Lawrence, the famous (to English majors) writer, once said the following: “I hold that the parentheses are, by far, the most important part of a non-business letter.” In the great English tradition, if someone famous who died at least 30 years ago said something, it must be right (seriously, though, you can get away with saying anything you want as long as you follow it up by telling people Winston Churchill or C. S. Lewis said it).

While parentheses are admittedly distracting (SEX), they are often necessary. They(D) can(O) also(N) be(‘) very(T) sneaky(M), such(E) as(S) when(S) they(W) are(I) inserted(T) randomly(H) into(M) sentences(E) to(,) send(S) readers(T) secret(E) and(V) friendly(E) messages(.).

(A quick side-note: parentheses can also be used for quick side-notes.)

Finally (I know this isn’t easy to read, but you’re almost there), I come to my point. I am sure there are a zillion textbooks (and Steve) that say parentheses should be kept to a minimum, and they (the books and Steve) are probably correct, but my philosophy is that, heck, if they feel right, use ’em.

But just wait till next week, when we discuss ellipses. . .