Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

Good marks


This-here is pretty interesting. A fellow named Adam J Calhoun wondered what different novels might look like if you took out all the words and had nothing left but the punctuation marks. As he puts it in his Medium post, “Writing can be beautiful because of the words an author chooses to use: but it can also be beautiful because of the choice of punctuation.”

Go to Calhoun’s post and look at the image at the top (I didn’t reproduce it because he must not have seen my request for permission …). On the left is Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. On the right is Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom!. Right away you can see that McCarthy is all about blunt statements — a lot of them — peppered with a lot of questions. Faulkner, on the other hand, is a blubbering madman in comparison, inserting myriad (to use one of his favorite words) parenthetical side-trips that show up here like bullet holes on a paper target.

To my mind, this boils down essentially to an author’s sense of rhythm. It’s like the difference between John Philip Sousa and Thelonious Monk. And maybe rhythm and space are elements that have been de-emphasized the last few years, because — as I talked about in “Gatecrash” — I see a lot of sameness in the personality of much writing these days. Maybe this is because readers are changing, or have changed, but it might also be that writers are emulating other, successful writers too much. They forgot one key (though maybe now clichéd) piece of advice from the writers’ workshops of yesteryear: find your own voice.

Calhoun says he was inspired to do this project (and he does analyze quite a few novels this way, from Ulysses to Frankenstein) by a series of posters. You can look at those here. Awesome, no?

Punctuation. Don’t take it for granted, or, to put it another way: Be kind to your colon.

7 comments on “Good marks

  1. John W. Howell
    February 19, 2016

    Very interesting.

  2. Audrey Driscoll
    February 19, 2016

    Interesting — an instant visual of different writing styles. I have a tendency to add parenthetical comments, but rein it in (most of the time). As for the sameness you’ve noticed, I think it results from adherence to writing rules promoted all over the blogosphere. Many writers carefully put one foot in front of another as though walking a tightrope, rather than dancing with the language and finding a unique voice.

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 20, 2016

      Great analogy with the tightrope! Love it. And I think you’re exactly right. There are so many writing gurus out there teaching people to be generic, when they should be encouraging freedom.

  3. pinklightsabre
    February 20, 2016

    Thanks for sharing that Kevin.
    I’m happy you include the observation about finding one’s voice, and the musicality in the writing. I’ll confess, and I’m not a good writer or reader perhaps in saying this, and you’re no confessional booth, but I will sometimes read for rhythm alone. As a writer, I think it’s helped me develop an internal sense for what sounds right and you’re right of course, the commas are breaks or speed-bumps and I’ll be damned if a semi-colon doesn’t stick out sometimes like roadkill; maybe it’s my own hang-ups. Do you think punctuation has its time and fashion? Good article and post. Bill

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 20, 2016

      You may be right about the time and fashion thing. The semi-colon used to be quite the handy little tool, back when very long sentences with many independent clauses were par for the course. Now we like blunt. Spare. Direct statements. And we’re addicted to dialogue too, so I bet modern novels are full of quotation marks.

  4. cinthiaritchie
    February 21, 2016

    Wow, totally cool and interesting. I’m with Faulkner all the way, though. Give me lots of words, lots of commas and long and lyrical sentences and I’m a happy reader. Cormac McCarthy’s choppy sentences do nothing for me. Simply put, they’re not sexy. They don’t allow me to linger (imagine their writing styles as their bedroom styles and I think that most of us (at least most of us who are women) would prefer Faulkner, lol.

    • Kevin Brennan
      February 21, 2016

      I’m not sure my writing style and bedroom style are too similar. Except that I do make bad puns in both … 😝

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This entry was posted on February 19, 2016 by in Writing and tagged .
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