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Using Parentheses in Fiction (1 Viewer)

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WF Veterans
In nonfiction, I use parentheses to indicate information that essentially could be ignored. Normal.

But in fiction, if it isn't important, we just don't include it. So when would a fiction writer use parentheses? I had, as advice, that it was okay if a fiction writer never used parentheses.

While anything is possible and that usage still exists in fiction, I was surprised to find a different use: Showing that the information is outside of the flow of the story. Probably a good example:

The restaurant next to the hotel had a sign saying it was closed for plumbing repairs (and I really didn't even want to think about that!), so I checked my phone for other restaurants in the area.(Cooper, Student Body,pages 86-87)

The author wanted that information. But it's marked as not being the direction the story is going in. That's a useful tool

And it all was innocent until . . . I could now see places where parentheses should have been used.

It was a great feat of engineering -- my father would have been impressed -- and succeeded brilliantly in transporting its patrons, who came by the thousands ... (Jekyll Revelation, Masello, page 161, trade)

I also found where an author should have been more confident that parentheses could create this effect.

So that raises the bar.

I don't need comments, but I am happy to hear anything, including disagreements, including how you use parentheses in fiction.


Staff member
Em dashes are a good mechanism for that in fiction, as you showed in your later example. Some authors use them more often than others.

Your example has spaces around the em dashes, which I also like because I think it looks cleaner. However, it's not the proper usage, so I eventually gave up my pretty spaces.

Because of em dashes, I don't use parentheses.


WF Veterans
Ugh, I forgot context. We can use either an em dash or ellipses to show a pause, and we can imagine authors preferring one over the other. But in an ideal world, they would have two different meanings, and authors would carefully differentiate them and use them correctly.

And then there's reality, whatever that is. If other authors differentiate them, then you have to also. If readers don't see a difference you can use whichever you want. And if we all follow some convention, then the convention will exist and we can communicate better.

Some grammar things apparently are coin flips. I mentioned this one because it seemed to be a trend in how parentheses were used. Which means you could be making an error in using parentheses even when you don't use them. (Unpleasant thought, right?) And of course I could be wrong or change my mind.


Staff member
We can use either an em dash or ellipses to show a pause

For what it's worth, if the pause surrounds an "aside" within a sentence, I use the em dash. If there is only one pause, I use the ellipse.

* I guessed--and I certainly didn't know if I was right--that the butler did it.

* I thought the butler did it ... but was I right?

Of course, commas could also work instead of the em dash. I use the em dash for important break-outs, and commas for mundane phrases.

* I guessed, rather vaguely, that the butler did it.


Senior Member
I have to actively work to not use parenthesis. My natural flow often splits and I want both thoughts in there! So I’ve been making the effort to try to place the parenthesis statement as a separate sentence either before or after the root sentence, but it’s tough sometimes for me. C.S.Lewis uses a ton of parenthesis in the Narnia series. So sometimes I let the sentence show my off-shoots of thought. Just let my hair hang out.
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Staff member
It's odd but this reminded me of something I'd forgotten. A long time ago I started seeing this as 'distances' from the writer/reader perspective.

[] = furthest distance
() = far distance
-- = near distance

That may be technically wrong but for some reason it worked for me.
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