Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Reflection: Parentheses

Hey, look, I have a blog.  Maybe I should write something for it!

So I've been tweaking my fantasy novel, and, in my efforts to remove unneeded words and to enhance the flow of the narrative, I realized that I had to get rid of all the parentheses in my text.  Doesn't sound too hard, but I had included over two-hundred parentheses in my novel.  Yikes.

As I wrote I thought, "Hey, these asides are pretty entertaining, and this I like this style of writing... yeah, I think I've found my voice here."  It was a way for me to make little 'conversational' comments in my novel.  In my mind, these comments made the narrative feel more like a story told by the fireside, and I liked that feeling.  It was comfortable, like a pair of sweatpants with an elastic waistband.

But then I gave out hard copies to different readers, and they found the parentheses problematic. They disrupted the flow of the story.  They diverted attention from the plot.  They committed the mortal sin of Telling and not Showing.  They had to go.

So they went.  And, while the editing process was at first a little hard on my ego, after the first few sets of parentheses were excised, the rest came out quicker than a cheetah with rocket boots.  The parentheses were not really part of my style.  They were a lazy way of writing that hindered what I was trying to do.  A dash of humility and a few hours of work was all it took to make my novel stronger.

I started to think about my previous mindset: the parentheses are my style; they make my work, well, my work.  I looked at my life and thought about the things that I did that I believed made me more myself.  A lot of those things were good and true.  But a lot were not.  They were parentheses.  They were distractions from what was most important and what had to be communicated.  They had to go.

Seems to me that we humans do that pretty often.  We all have our own parentheses that we think make us who we really are, when in fact they just get in way.  Heck, sometimes we will yell and fight for the right to our parentheses and convince ourselves that they are something other than the shoddy work they truly are.  "This defines me," we say.  "This makes me who I am.  This makes me special."

Sometimes those very things by which we define ourselves are the things that most alienate us from who we really are.  Or perhaps I should write, "who we are really called to be."

Now, I may have removed the parentheses from my book, but I've still got a whole bunch in my life.  I probably have not noticed even ten percent of them.  But, today, I'm going to start editing them.  Eating too much?  Out!  Being half-Italian does not justify gluttony.  Jealousy?  Gone.  Red is a much better color for me than green.  Wrath?  Deleted.  Installing a harpoon gun on my car would be too expensive.

Of course I'm going to eat too much, be envious, and have road rage at some point in the future.  But I'm going to consciously try to remove these parentheses from my life little by little every day.  With a few years of dedication and whole lot of God's grace, maybe they'll be broken down to semi-colons, or even commas.  Maybe I'll be able to say what it is I was made to say before I hit my final period, though I'd rather end on an exclamation point, if I can help it.

I suppose the question I'll leave you with is this: how much of your story is stuck inside parentheses?