All throughout high school, all I learned about parenthesis was that “if it’s there, either remove them because the phrase is important, or cut the entire thing because it’s not important.” So I always asked myself, “How do you use parenthesis as a creative writer?!”
Maybe I’m still unsure of how to use them, but there are a few different times where I noticed them and thought, “Hey, that’s pretty cool.” And they worked well!
Back in high school, my one and only creative writing teacher read to us a poem called “The Names” by Billy Collins. You may remember it as the poem he wrote for the one-year-anniversary of September 11th. I find the poem extremely moving, and I’m currently pining away to take the poetry class next semester with Dr. Pobo because there’s so much I can improve on. But the greatest part of the poem for me, is the one line with parenthesis, “(let X stand, if it can, for the ones unfound).” I remember my creative writing teacher saying, “This is interesting. Why? Because normally parenthesis are deemed unimportant and useless. And yet in this poem, this line seems like the most important one, the line that moves the reader the most.”
Ever since then, parenthesis got me thinking, and I completely shied away from them because hell if I knew how to use them properly in a fiction piece. And then Dr.Utell assigned Metroland this semester.
Metroland is turning out to be a fantastic read, and guess what? Parenthesis are a major part of the novel! The parenthesis in this book add so much character and personality to the main character, Chris, because the parenthesis show the reader Chris’s tone. The entire book is written by the probable “middle-aged Chris,” reflecting back on his life. In the first section, Chris is in his adolescent years, and it’s completely believable. The parenthesis throughout the entire book are basically Chris commenting on his own words (seriously, how incredible is that?).
When he is young, the parenthesis let the reader in to his thought-process of a young boy thinking that life is pretty unfair, “(Nigel was always spared chores like this because of an obscure chest complaint; Mary on the grounds of being a girl; my parents on the grounds of being parents.)” (page 47). I literally wrote “ha ha” next to that section. And as he gets older, the parenthesis change with his tone of voice, “(a frown of bad memory; mouth like a fish’s searching on the surface)” (page 75). A young boy would not think of that…
Not everyone can use parenthesis (I surely haven’t figured it out yet. Though maybe I have…), but there are plenty of instances where creative writing can seem to take hold of the typical English grammar, and throw it out the window to come up with something great. And “The Names” by Billy Collins and Metroland by Jayne Barnes seem to do just that. (I guess) it is all an experiment until you find (something that can work). (But really, isn’t creative writing an experiment in itself?)