How do you feel about (brackets)?

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Rich.

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Sep 28, 2017
Spain
I recently put up a piece in the Writing Groups that used a lot of a brackets (like the ones around these words here). The reaction was interesting. Some didn't mention them at all, but those that did (half or more) hated them. Nobody said they liked them.

Books I've read recently that use them (in the genre I write, which is fantasy) include the Shades of Magic series by VE Schwab and The Broken Earth series by NK Jemisin (both written in the last few years) along with Stephen King's The Dark Tower series (the first part of which was published in the 80s).

The first time I came across them in adult fiction, I reacted negatively, much like the reviewers I mentioned above. But they grew on me. And now I quite like them as a way of showing a discursive mind, of indicating secondary thoughts that are present below the primary ones (even though I think I overdid it in the piece I posted in the Groups).

What's your take on the use of brackets in fiction, and why?
 
I was one of the nay sayers. I think it's because it reminded me that you were there as a narrator. It broke the fourth wall. Having said that, I'm terrible for hyphens, which serve exactly the same function, but look less technical. The fantasy I read is mostly stuff like Northern Lights, which is written in a mainstream literary style. If the genre you're working in uses them routinely, then that's different.
Of course, you could use it to your advantage, and break the wall purposefully. That would be a whole other ball game.
Also, if it was written in the first person, it would be the character's voice intruding, not yours. But I imagine first person might be tricky to pull off in epic fantasy.
 
I'm terrible for hyphens, which serve exactly the same function, but look less technical.
That's really interesting. I've used hyphens a lot as well, but I came to think that they're good for afterthoughts...

Jimmy clocked off at five and went to the pub with Bob every Friday – they invariably came out pissed

...but they really make things stand out, like a spokesperson shoved out of a crowd, when they appear in the middle of things...

Jimmy clocked off at five every Friday – with only beer on his mind – and went to the pub with Bob

...whereas in the same situation brackets look like the sentence is giving the extra thought a hug...

Jimmy clocked off at five every Friday (with only beer on his mind) and went to the pub with Bob

...or we could just be done with it all and use commas and fullstops. I'm in two minds (maybe three – maybe more).

I think it's because it reminded me that you were there as a narrator. It broke the fourth wall.
Yeah, this is always the danger. In my mind the bracketed comments were the character's not the narrator's, and heaven forbid not mine. But I suppose anything out of the ordinary risks throwing the reader out of things, any effect. I'm still not sure whether to push on with the brackets or do away with them, hence this thread. I don't have the courage of my convictions. It's a small thing really. There's plenty else wrong with the piece I posted beyond the brackets!
 
That's really interesting. I've used hyphens a lot as well, but I came to think that they're good for afterthoughts...

Jimmy clocked off at five and went to the pub with Bob every Friday – they invariably came out pissed

...but they really make things stand out, like a spokesperson shoved out of a crowd, when they appear in the middle of things...

Jimmy clocked off at five every Friday – with only beer on his mind – and went to the pub with Bob

...whereas in the same situation brackets look like the sentence is giving the extra thought a hug...

Jimmy clocked off at five every Friday (with only beer on his mind) and went to the pub with Bob

...or we could just be done with it all and use commas and fullstops. I'm in two minds (maybe three – maybe more).


Yeah, this is always the danger. In my mind the bracketed comments were the character's not the narrator's, and heaven forbid not mine. But I suppose anything out of the ordinary risks throwing the reader out of things, any effect. I'm still not sure whether to push on with the brackets or do away with them, hence this thread. I don't have the courage of my convictions. It's a small thing really. There's plenty else wrong with the piece I posted beyond the brackets!
On the basis that anything jarring is a reason to disengage, I'd be tempted to stick with commas and full stops. The need to use brackets in your case, or hyphens in mine, might be a sign we're stuffing a quart into a pint pot.
 
As Leonora says, brackets poke a hole in the fourth wall. A strength might be that they allow the omniscient narrator or a character to be discursive, but on the downside a bracket means doubt. As I observed in an old thread, everything in fiction is so certain...even dilemmas only have one or two easy solutions.

For the last month, I've been editing the first novel I wrote trawling through the manuscript using proofreading apps. The main changes I've made is to firm things up—a bicycle isn't half-broken it's wrecked. For the first time in my five Cornish Detective novels, I'd used a bracket in the internal dialogue of a character. He's out hunting rabbits in a landscape where a serial killer has taken four victims, nervously looking around for strangers, thinking "He could take care of himself (probably), unlike the previous victims who were all elderly or weak." After many read-throughs, I eventually decided that it read better without the (probably). The bracketed word expressed his doubt well but felt like I the writer had intruded.

I've just flipped through three novels I'm currently reading—a Western, a Finnish crime caper and Barbara Kingsolver's latest—not spotting a single bracket.
 
Brackets (or parentheses), hyphens, em dashes, ellipses are all distracting if used too frequently. It's better to use italics for emphasis, but even that can become too much when used too often. Think of those extra punctuation marks as one more thing our readers' brains have to process as they move along. In other words, one more thing to potentially pull your reader out of the story. You don't want to do that. :)
 
I'm experimental and love exploring new ways of doing and seeing, and in that sense, I like the brackets: it makes your sentences more meander-y, like thought; but I felt it took your writing and story, both of which are really strong, down a notch in this case (maybe this is simply a response to a book I read 2 days ago (MG) which had a lot of brackets and ended up felling silly and talking down to kids rather than include them). I feel they could perhaps be a bit faddy, and won't stand the test of time. But most of all, they pulled me out of the flow, so my "nay" was an immediate emotional response to that.
There's plenty else wrong with the piece I posted beyond the brackets!
I'm doing a deep-clean of mine and taking it apart line for line (excessively pleasurable), I don''t think you ever come to a point where you can't do more :) But as it stands, all that is right and brilliant far outweighs the tiny dots that are "wrong", so I'd perhaps keep writing, get it down, and look at it in context at the end (and after a few weeks/months ruminating on brackets, you might have a strong sense of what is right for your story).

By the next draft, the brackets may have grown on all of us, ha ha
 
I didn't mention them because I saw someone else had mentioned them. They only bother me sometimes. I think in meaning they aren't that different from what other people do to give additional, clarifying information about something that was just said. But I think if you can at all manage to do it without a parenthetical brackets, it's a good idea to do so. I'm not used to them and because of that, it feels a little deliberate to me.
 
Noah Lukeman in his The Art of Punctuation has a chapter on the dash and brackets. He calls the dash the Interrupter and the bracket the Adviser.

On brackets, he says: (They) "respectfully interrupt you, so that you needn't cease speaking or change your train of thought. Their interruption is more of an enhancement, like a trusted adviser whispering in your ear. Like the dash, brackets are often dismissed as mere technical appliances. As with the dash, this is not where the discussion ends. Misused, of course, brackets can be a terrible blight on a work, one which can make it nearly unreadable. But in the right hands, they can be a great creative tool, adding a layer of complexity to your text without interrupting its rhythm, a layer that could not exist any other way."
 
The need to use brackets in your case, or hyphens in mine, might be a sign we're stuffing a quart into a pint pot.
Yeah, it just might. After all, the story's the thing, not the artifice.

Think of those extra punctuation marks as one more thing our readers' brains have to process as they move along. In other words, one more thing to potentially pull your reader out of the story. You don't want to do that. :)
That it, isn't it? That's the nub of it.

I don''t think you ever come to a point where you can't do more :) But as it stands, all that is right and brilliant far outweighs the tiny dots that are "wrong", so I'd perhaps keep writing, get it down, and look at it in context at the end (and after a few weeks/months ruminating on brackets, you might have a strong sense of what is right for your story).
Thanks :) And I agree with the "keep writing" approach. Funnily enough, Stephen King, in a forward to The Dark Tower (which I mentioned above), says this:
...my method of attack has always been to plunge in and go as fast as I can, keeping the edge of my narrative blade as sharp as possible by constant use, and trying to outrun the novelist's most insidious enemy, which is doubt.

I'm not used to them and because of that, it feels a little deliberate to me.
Again, the nub of it. I feel the same, to be honest. I kinda wish I didn't.

I've read it. It's inspiring. But then you come up against those emotional responses we've been talking about (my own included), and it leaves you wondering if complex punctuation is worth fighting for in genre fiction. Saying it bluntly like that makes me frown and feel that, yes, it is(!).

(Perhaps.)
 
I keep wondering why people would fight for complex punctuation, or anything for that matter in a story, as opposed to working hard to craft a great story with memorable characters. Especially today where people want instant gratification.

I can only speak to my own experience, but 99% of my readers want a story they can get through quickly, but which leaves them wanting more. They want characters they can relate to and care about. They want to root for those characters, and see them work to get their happy ending.

They aren't going to be impressed if I know how to use a semi-colon (I do), or if I toss in some other punctuation just for effect. They don't give a shit. :)

I've never once read a review where the reviewer mentioned the use of brackets or hyphens, expect to say they noticed them. *cringe* Bad thing, there.

You don't want people noticing how clever you are with punctuation. You want people noticing how exciting the plot was, how memorable the characters were, and how many emotions you evoked in them while they read the book. You want them asking when the next one in the series is coming out, and where they can find the rest of your books.

I've never once loved a book because the author liberally sprinkled in all sorts of punctuation. Not once. :)
 
Like any feature of language, I expect they can be used well and used poorly. I don't generally use them, for all the above mentioned reasons, but I purposely used them recently to try to get a disjointed thought effect from my MC (using them in first person). Did it work? Who knows? They may or may not remain through the editing process, but the disrupting effect of them was exactly what I was aiming for.
 
I was one of those who commented on your piece, @Rich. I didn't necessarily intend to say I didn't like them, I just thought that having three occurrences in the first two paragraphs was perhaps a bit much.
My feeling is they generally work better in dialog, when the speaker gives an aside or perhaps a sotto voce word or two, but less well in the narration. I'm not saying they don't have their place, and I have used them myself. But if I can reasonably do it with commas I will. I agree with others that it has that momentary distraction that takes you out of the story and reminds you of the writer. Technical manuals tend to be filled with them and it is perhaps that aspect, and their normal rarity in general fiction that makes the reader suddenly think, "Oh, what's that about?" when they occur. I feel they should be treated a bit like exclamation marks, sparingly and only when really needed.
 
I recently put up a piece in the Writing Groups that used a lot of a brackets (like the ones around these words here). The reaction was interesting. Some didn't mention them at all, but those that did (half or more) hated them. Nobody said they liked them.

Books I've read recently that use them (in the genre I write, which is fantasy) include the Shades of Magic series by VE Schwab and The Broken Earth series by NK Jemisin (both written in the last few years) along with Stephen King's The Dark Tower series (the first part of which was published in the 80s).

The first time I came across them in adult fiction, I reacted negatively, much like the reviewers I mentioned above. But they grew on me. And now I quite like them as a way of showing a discursive mind, of indicating secondary thoughts that are present below the primary ones (even though I think I overdid it in the piece I posted in the Groups).

What's your take on the use of brackets in fiction, and why?

I am a professional editor and, in general, most publishing styles HATE brackets. (See particularly AP.) They slow up the reader and may even stop them reading at all, if they feel it's too much like hard work. If you need an aside -- and sometimes you do -- I use extended dashes, like that. Otherwise I try to practise what I preach. No brackets.
 
As you know, I was one of the nayers. I wasn't keen on the brackets. They pulled me out of the story, but more importantly, I felt it was the author coming through.

I wonder if brackets work better if the story is in first POV? To me, they give a chatty sort of style to the writing, (i.e. here on this forum), which is another reason why it didn't work for me in Haika. Haika doesn't feel like the chatty tale down the pub; but more the heavyweight, important, epic adventure.

They may also sit well in kid's books?

I may be wrong, but I see punctuations as an invisible ingredient. But I'm not native English, so I don't really know .....
 
I remember when I first encountered brackets in Harry Potter. It did make me stop and wonder, but once I got over my initial surprise I found I didn't mind them. I tend to use en – and em — dashes rather than brackets. It's a style thing, but they serve a similar purpose. I think as long as you are consistent it's fine.

Curiously, I've also seen a couple of novels (Bartimaeus Trilogy and Nevernight) use footnotes in their fiction. Again it draws attention to the narrator and breaks the fourth wall a bit, but it was brilliantly done.
 
I recently put up a piece in the Writing Groups that used a lot of a brackets (like the ones around these words here). The reaction was interesting. Some didn't mention them at all, but those that did (half or more) hated them. Nobody said they liked them.

Books I've read recently that use them (in the genre I write, which is fantasy) include the Shades of Magic series by VE Schwab and The Broken Earth series by NK Jemisin (both written in the last few years) along with Stephen King's The Dark Tower series (the first part of which was published in the 80s).

The first time I came across them in adult fiction, I reacted negatively, much like the reviewers I mentioned above. But they grew on me. And now I quite like them as a way of showing a discursive mind, of indicating secondary thoughts that are present below the primary ones (even though I think I overdid it in the piece I posted in the Groups).

What's your take on the use of brackets in fiction, and why?

I really like brackets, especially when I am able to anticipate what it contains. That is, if I'm reading earnestly, and find myself on the author's plane of thought, I can tell (to a reasonable extent) how that particular segment/paragraph/sentence (or thought) might end. If I am correct, and if the content within brackets is close to what I had anticipated, I feel elated: it's as though the author believed the reader would get there. The bracket serving as acknowledgment in this case.

Admittedly, this doesn't happen often, but it is rewarding (and extremely so) when it happens.

PS: I really like your use of brackets in this post.
 
I'd say use them if you really need them, but not if you don't. I've only ever noticed them in books for young children where authors are making asides to the readers. Only once in my own writing have I felt the need for them, but they were so conspicuous that I rewrote the sentence. They work much better in first person stories, imo, because the narrator is talking directly to the audience. In the third person, observations given in brackets can seem intrusive, superfluous or chatty.
 
I've never really come upon anything with lots of brackets though I suspect they would annoy me if there were too many. I doubt it would make me put a book down though if the story was worthwhile. I have a tendency to use lots of dots in my writing... especially in speech. I sometimes wonder if they might be annoying>
 
It's happened to me before, after an extended period of editing my writing, but at present I find myself psychologically trapped in editing mode, looking at each word that leaves my mouth when I speak to people and inserting punctuation marks!

business-commerce-finger_quotes-quotes-brackets-hand_gesture-body_language-mban2913_low.jpg
 
I'm with Carol Rose on this – it's all distracting if used too frequently. I think it's about balance. I read your piece and yes, I noticed the brackets, but no, they didn't bother me. In fact, I liked the first one, to do with Haika knowing her baby was a boy. They definitely take the reader out of the world, to process the aside, so that's worth considering. If I were doing a line edit I'd flag them up if I thought there were too many or they were unnecessary.
 
I've been reading an illustrated study of the life and influence of Charles Dickens, not so much for a love of his books, but because the author Martin Fido is Cornish and also to see how Dickens self-promoted, including releasing books in instalments. I'm embarking on the querying and blogging trail, so I was hoping for tips! :rolleyes:

There were several examples of his writing in the text, which included brackets/parentheses. Curious about Dickens' thinking, I looked online and found this article:

June and the Parenthesis | English Project

From the article: The parenthesis... is ‘an explanation, aside, or afterthought’. The parenthesis is a murmur from author to reader, a voice-to-camera as it were.
 
I've been reading an illustrated study of the life and influence of Charles Dickens, not so much for a love of his books, but because the author Martin Fido is Cornish and also to see how Dickens self-promoted, including releasing books in instalments. I'm embarking on the querying and blogging trail, so I was hoping for tips! :rolleyes:

There were several examples of his writing in the text, which included brackets/parentheses. Curious about Dickens' thinking, I looked online and found this article:

June and the Parenthesis | English Project

From the article: The parenthesis... is ‘an explanation, aside, or afterthought’. The parenthesis is a murmur from author to reader, a voice-to-camera as it were.

"a murmur"--That's just beautiful. Even the word "murmur" is beautiful, and onomatopoeic.
 
@Rich. , I read Jane Eyre yesterday, I read it years ago and have been meaning to read it again for ages. 'Twas timely in regards to this conversation as it is littered with brackets, especially in dialogue.
There were several examples of his writing in the text, which included brackets/parentheses.
It must have been 'of the time': both Dickens and Charlotte Bronte lived and worked during the same years.
 
This was a fascinating discussion, and it certainly helped me to make some choices about my own novel-in-progress. I will... [drum roll, please...] not be using brackets in the current project. :)

(But who knows what'll happen in the future...;))
 
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