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April 16, 2010

Writing Style - Parentheses

As a long-time book reviewer and relatively recent blogger, not to mention an aspiring writer in other fashions, one thing that I've often thought about is my writing style.

One of my favourite nonfiction writers is Jonah Goldberg, from National Review. Not only is he a great Conservative (now I'll watch over half my readership tune out), but he's also an excellent writer, nerd, and all around cool guy. He'll talk politics, but he'll also talk True Blood, Star Trek, and the latest in Volcano Lancing.

Why do I bring Jonah up in a post about writing styles?

In Goldberg's latest G-File (a weekly newsletter from NRO where he comments on a lot of different topics), he mentions how he was invited to give a speech in Cincinnati yesterday for Tax Day. He was a bit concerned because it would be the biggest crowd he had ever addressed, and he wasn't sure how his style of writing would translate to a mass that big (in this case, speech-writing, but his article-writing is about the same):

"My friend Michael Graham, who in his comedy days spoke to Ben Hur-chariot-race-size audiences, says that I need to use short declarative sentences because parenthetical asides don't work well. This is bad news for me, because I'm all about parenthetical asides ("For the first time in living memory, I've got to agree with you there" -- The Couch)."

That got me thinking about writing styles, mainly because I'm the same way! Long-time readers may recognize what he's doing with "The Couch," as that's pretty much where I got the "Peanut Gallery" asides that I do occasionally. I admit that Goldberg inspired those.

However, I also find that I do the parenthetical asides thing just about as often as he does! And he does them a lot. I have been writing this way for a long time, so the style is *definitely* not taken from Goldberg. It is nice to see a successful writer doing things that way, though. It makes me realize that it can work for me as well. I just have to watch how often I do parentheses, to make sure they don't overwhelm what I'm writing.

Unless I'm using them for comedic effect.

"Anyway, it will be an interesting challenge, and if you have any suggestions for what I should talk about (they want something related to my book, which could be dicey given the need for short declarative sentences), I'm all ears (actually, ears make up a really tiny percentage of my anatomy, but you get the point (oh, man, am I in trouble))."

Something like that.

Now, I am in no way trying to equate myself to Jonah as far as quality goes. He's leaps and bounds above me (not to mention faster than a speeding bullet). But we do have similar styles, and I'm thankful that I was writing this way before I stumbled upon National Review, or else I could be accused of copying his style.

Sometimes I do wonder if I use parenthetical asides too much. On the other hand, when I start trying to avoid them, it just doesn't feel natural (unless I'm writing something very serious, of course). It just doesn't feel like *me*.

I'd love to hear what you think, both as a writer (if you're writing) and as a reader (if you're reading, and if you're not reading, then how can you see this?)


  1. Honestly, I love parenthetical asides. Possibly because I use them *all the time.* (Seriously, if you could see my journal...)

  2. Glad to see we're so alike. I'm still waiting to see that blog. :P

  3. humn, not copying anybody but yeah, i use parenthetical style too sometimes, coz when i write, i was actually telling a story to a friends.. and as a reader i like to reads those kind of style from the writer, it fills like the writer is telling the story to me.. lols..


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