1. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    Breaking Paragraphs with Parentheses

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Raki, Dec 5, 2011.

    For the last few months, I've been finishing up my read of Stephen King's Dark Tower series (I'm a slow reader). There's a certain trick he employs with parentheses that I don't quite understand (I have theories, but I've been unable to find anything that supports those theories), and I thought to post an example here to see what you more knowledgeable, experienced folks might have to say. Now, I've scoured one of the books for a short example because I didn't want to quote a large paragraph (or one that is particularly revealing of the story), but I think it's important to note that he does this with more than one word (such as, entire phrases) at times. Most of his uses of parentheses mirror that of how I've used them in this paragraph, but then:

    What's the purpose of executing the text in that fashion, instead of:

    My personal thoughts are that it draws special attention to the parenthetical matter (perhaps making it as important as the non-parenthetical matter), also interrupts the flow in a way. What are your thoughts?
     
  2. Cacian
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    Cacian Banned

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    Hi Haki
    At first glance I am thinking what the heck is going on?because if any of us know here did that (didn't) whilst answering posts it would(wouldn't) annoy the heck of anyone.
    I am not getting it to be honest. Just because he wrote the book does not make what he did(didn't) right.
    For this reason I am not going to go there, but the only maybe I can think of is that of someone whose mind is a Yes one minute and A No the next so to try and project it he has done poetry style with paretheses as a break in between his prose/description .
    It is a kind a break DOWN if you like
    It reminded of the song (Hot N Cold) by Katy Perry do you know it?
     
  3. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    This post has spoilers.

    I can't quite remember what part that's from. Is that when he's ascending the stairs in the tower right at the end?
    Either way, yeah... it does make the parenthetical parts as important. If he didn't want your attention drawn to it, he wouldn't do it. If that's the bit where he's ascending the tower, then the contradiction makes sense since it's not the last beats of his heart or his last breath or anything.

    SPOILERS END HERE.

    Still, King does his own thing with his little style here. Quite frankly, I'd say it's better than having a paragraph because it's more aesthetically pleasing to the eye. A paragraph, the way you put it? It looks, to be honest, a little bit terrible. When it splits the lines up, it forces you to read it with more focus. It's a well-known fact that we only read about 60-70% of the letters in a word, and about the same amount of words in a sentence. We don't really read all the words we see because our mind is lazy but able to fill in the blanks. It's why short hand works.
    By breaking it up, we actually look at the parenthetic words.

    First, you clearly have no idea about the series. Don't make assumptions.
    Second, it's not "poetry" style. He's not writing in verse. He's still writing in prose.
    Third, adding parenthetic phrases into your post makes you look like a bit of a smartass.
    Finally, it has nothing to do with that song. Maybe it reminds you of it, but you're mistaken. Why would you even bring it up?
     
  4. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I haven't read the series, but it seems to be a pretty simple borrowing of techniques from poetry. Line breaks like that always draw attention to the words at the end of lines. But I think in this case, since he's dealing with direct contradictions (I don't know if he is throughout the rest of the book too?) it enables the reader to easily read it through with either the positive or negative verb, or easily mix the two, however it works in the context of the novel. It separates the ideas more easily so that they can be more effectively manipulated with his reversals, than, say, if he left the parentheses embedded within the paragraph, which would make that kind of quick re-reading a little more cumbersome and, like crucifiction says, less visually effective too.
     
  5. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    Sorry for this monster of a post...got distracted five or six times along the way of writing it, but hopefully you can follow. Here's another example of the technique used in the OP.

    So here it's used to show Roland's thoughts, I believe, but I do not understand why it's broken into three paragraphs, or why one sentence is what connects all three paragraphs. I think it's also important to note the italics. In my OP, the parenthetical matter was not italicized, while the rest of the text was (italics reversed). For the DT series, that usually means someone is thinking it, meaning the "he" in the OP is really dying but thinks he isn't (not believing it). In this example, the italics are reversed, the parenthetical matter are italicized and the rest is not. Same thing though. He really sees a smile, and thinks about what its hiding. But why is it separated? There are occasions where he uses the exact same setup, but keeps it all within a single paragraph. (Unfortunately I'll have to provide an example of that later.)

    I agree, it is more pleasing to the eye. Would you say the same about the example from this post? I'm not sure about it. So you think it may have something to do with how lazy our minds are and getting them to pay attention? Could be. That's definitely an interesting take on it, one I didn't consider.

    Something you mention about breaking it up and Craigplay saying parentheses are for old people (kidding) got me wondering if you applied the example to em-dashes instead of parentheses, what it would look like and would it work in the same manner. So below are the OP examples with em-dashes instead of parentheses.

    Do you think the paragraph breaks are needed with em-dashes here?

    I would too until I can understand it.

    I might point out that King doesn't technically break the "within the sentence" rule. His parentheses are technically still within the sentence. The sentence is just stretched out over two paragraph breaks (six paragraph breaks for the OP), and this is what raised my eyebrows about it. Personally, I do not see anything wrong with the use of parentheses, and would use them myself in prose if the need arose. Em-dashes are fine, but they do not always fit the bill of parentheses imo.
     
  6. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I have to say, honestly, that em-dashes make it look weird and abhorrent, and it's aberrant enough without taking it further.

    Now, there's really not much to understand. King's an established author. He's been writing for most of his life. He knows what he can and can't do. He knows what he does and doesn't feel comfortable doing. I have to say that I've never said that his prose is excellent. He's a great storyteller, but he does have his little quirks like this that make it a part of his voice.

    I personally wouldn't suggest you use this whether you understand it or not. There's not really much to understand, really. King is doing something he feels comfortable doing, and the way he did it is the best possible way he could have done it. Don't do anything like it unless you understand why you want to do it, not why he did it.
     
  7. Raki
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    Raki Contributing Member

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    Yes, I agree about the em-dashes.

    I don't agree with a lot of the rest of what you say here. Maybe the "not much to understand" part, but maybe not. Consider for a moment if no one pursued to understand how another successful writer developed and implemented their techniques. I really think writing wouldn't be what it is today if one didn't study the techniques of others. Writing would most likely still be stilted and with far fewer people out there wanting to pursue it. There'd be no reason for these forums, if that were the case. A lot of us gather, in a sense, so that we can learn not only how it's done but how others did it and do it.

    Because an established author develops a technique outside the normal course of things, that technique should be ignored and avoided instead of studied and improved upon (if it can be)? I'm not saying I wish to use this technique; I merely wish to understand its use. What makes it necessary, and how does it work? What are the disadvantages and advantages of using it? Is King the only one to use it, or are there other writers who also do this? I do have a fascination with it because it is outside of what I've been taught and what I've learned: I can think of only one other such circumstance where you would break a paragraph in mid-sentence and continue that sentence at the head of the next paragraph and without a capital letter.

    I think it is blatantly obvious that King is an established, successful writer, and there's probably very few people in the world who haven't heard his name. But that's no reason to discard what he does with the thought, "I could never get away with that." There's also no reason to not pursue learning and understanding something because you do not have a need for it, especially if it falls in the category of what you do. If that were the case, why would anyone go to school or seek higher education? One normally doesn't apply for a job that requires a certain degree, then spend four years getting the degree, and then work at the job (they may be interested in it, but they normally wouldn't apply for it with a hope at success before they even considered going to college); why would one approach writing in that manner? Such things work out much better if you already have what you need in hand, don't they?

    Sorry for the rant, but I do ever grow tired of the "you shouldn't even attempt it, he's established, and you'll never get away with it" responses these forums fill up with when one mentions the name of a successful author. And I know that may not be what you were saying directly, but it seemed to be heading in that direction. And, as noted above, I consider the logic behind such thoughts idiotic (it's basically telling someone to put a limit on what they learn). If that's not the case, and I missed your intentions clearly, my apologies.

    If possible, I'd like the conversation to focus on the how's and why's of the technique rather than the who's. Maybe forget King uses the technique, and discuss how it works and other questions in the third paragraph from above? If need be, I can try to find more examples from works outside of the DT and King's (I may not be too fast with this, though).
     
  8. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    My feeling is that it makes the parenthetic text a second voice, contradicting the narrator. Being another voice, giving it new paragraphs is entirely conventional.
     
  9. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm going to ignore the rest of your post because the answer to the above question is no. That's actually not what I was saying when I said there's not much to understand about it.
    The point I was putting across was that it's a simple technique. It's unorthodox, but very simple. It can be assumed that he breaks up the line that way for aesthetic value. The parenthetic phrases have to do with the plot, so there's not much to analyse about that. There's really not that much to understand. He did it because it's the way he writes, because he developed his style naturally in that fashion.

    In response to this, you shouldn't even attempt it. It's not particularly correct form, and he only gets away with it because he's established. He wrote the Bachman books because he wanted to find out whether he was actually a successful author, or whether it was just in his name. He found out that people really liked his stories. That said, his prose is definitely unspectacular. The second time I read the Dark Tower series, I found myself noticing every single one of his flaws and failings with his prose.
    Rather than attempting to do by rote what he does naturally, you should be developing your literary voice naturally and, quite frankly, trying to be a better writer than him. He's a good storyteller, and that is why you shouldn't be trying to copy his voice.
     
  10. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    I disagree. There's only one rule in creative writing: make it awesome. There's certainly no rule saying that you shouldn't write in any of those ways. There's the fact that if you do write in those ways it will have an effect on the reader, and managing that effect is part of what goes into making the writing awesome. Of course you can write "the cat didn't sat on mat". If you do then the reader will be aware that the speaker/narrator is using non-standard English and will start to figure out why that might be. Is he a child? A non-native speaker? Poorly educated? Language development impairment? A small deviation from standard English can carry a lot of narrative weight.
     
  11. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I disagree. Making it awesome is the goal in creative writing.
    The one rule of creative writing is to be creative.
     
  12. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    That would be awesome. :)
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    king can get away with such nonsense... new unknown writers can't...
     
  14. Raki
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    Aesthetic value could be a contributing factor (especially considering King's inconsistent use of the technique), but I think Digitig is closer to the reason in that the parenthetical matter is a second voice. Although it doesn't always contradict the narrator, actually it only contradicts the narrator as in that first example a few times throughout the series, but it always seems to be a second voice. However, there are times when the parenthetical elements King uses have a different (second) voice, yet they aren't breaking the paragraphs (the inconsistency I was referring to), which leads me to believe that he does it to draw a certain significance to the parenthetical matter. Not precisely to make it more pleasing to the eye, but to make it stand out in a way that it wouldn't otherwise.

    My previous post may have not been clear enough on this point. I'm not seeking to learn how to write, develop my voice, or to copy another's voice. In other words, I'm not seeking to know what I should or should not be doing, at least not from the perspectives of others. I'm perfectly capable of deciding those things on my own, thank you, but if I do have a question about that sort of thing, I'll start a new post and ask it. I'm seeking to learn how and why this technique is used, not whether or not I should implement it. And I think we can agree that it's not a particular quality of his voice, but of his style.

    I thought so, too, but found it odd the second voice interrupting the first voice mid-way through a paragraph and sentence, forcing it to span several paragraphs, as in the first example. Just looks odd, is all.

    Thanks for reading the post...
     
  15. Raki
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    Although I haven't read most of his works, McCarthy uses the same "breakdown" of punctuation you note in all of his books that I have (All the Pretty Horses, The Crossing, Cities of the Plain, Blood Meridian, and of course The Road). It seems to be more a thing of style than anything to do with the theme of The Road or his other books (of which, I'm fairly certain he uses the same style in the majority of them ... at least all but a few available on Amazon). He's also not the only one who implements this style. Junot Diaz uses it in Drown, and again, it seems to be more an element of style than one of theme. I'm sure there are many others, too.

    Would you say that the above examples I've listed of King are breaking any rules (and which ones those might be)? Personally, I think there is more behind a writer's motives when breaking the rules than simply to be clever (though there may be some writers with only the sole intention of being clever). It may not be clear on the surface though, and the easiest answer we can all come up with is that the writer was trying to be "clever" or see what he/she could get away with. These answers could be correct, but one who stops at the first suggestion that could be true is not much interested in how it really works or why. McCarthy was writing in his punctuation–rule-breaking style long before he started writing The Road, and I really doubt it had anything to do with being clever.

    Of course, I realize, you weren't saying that McCarthy or others like him were trying to be clever, but you were suggesting that some writers who break the rules are doing so in an attempt to be clever (or that you are telepathic). On the whole, that's probably correct. All writers, rule breakers or not, at least try to be clever to some degree, one hopes. Understanding the why behind their cleverness and the results of their cleverness is another matter, and that's what I think Digitig was talking about in his post.
     
  16. digitig
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    I think you've missed mine. I'm not talking about defying convention just for the sake of it, which, as you say, gets tired very quickly. But when Dickens has a newspaper vendor calling out "Here's particulars of the patriotic loco-foco movement yesterday, in which the whigs was so chawed up; and the last Alabama gouging case; and the interestin Arkansas dooel with Bowie knives; and all the Political, Commercial and Fashionable News" he wasn't being "experimental", he was being entirely mainstream and using non-standard language for effect. Experimental writing is so tiresome because it doesn't give the reader anything in return for struggling with the unconventional text, apart from maybe the satisfaction of having solved a puzzle. If the breaking of convention is for a reason, though, the reader is getting something for it.
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    hear, hear, digitigulus!
     
  18. digitig
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    Not really. There were some Roman Catholic metaphysical poets -- notably Gerard Manley Hopkins and Francis Thompson -- who were experimental in the way you describe, but poets being experimental is hardly news. By and large, the 19th century was something of a peak of prescriptivism that had risen through the 18th century and collapsed again in the 20th.

    Just about everything I read is riddled with writing that would raise howls of protest from folks on this forum. A lot of that reading is for a book group, and if book group selections are not mainstream then nothing is! Whenever somebody posts an example of such writing the prescriptivists jump in with reasons why that author can do it but no others should. But when everything is an exception then nothing is! Try looking at the stuff that you read more closely and checking whether it really follows the rules that you think creative writing should follow. And if it doesn't, consider the possibility that it might be the rules that are wrong, not all of those authors, editors and publishers.
    Nobody needs to do creative writing at all. I'm sure Stephen king could go back to working in a laundry. Presumably he thinks that working as an author is the best job for him, and thought that laying out those passages with parentheses in the way he did was the best way to lay them out.
     
  19. mammamaia
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    i wouldn't say so and i've read quite a lot that was written in that era... what words and grammar fiddling were you thinking of, craig?
     

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