Friday, May 27, 2011

Em dash, female writers, and the state of writing

Poking around other blogs, I came across a link to an article that I thought was really interesting. Not only because of the way the author of the article got the point across, but because of the article. It made me go hmmm.

Read this article. (I'll wait.)


Now, I'm not a grammarian. So, honestly, I can't say that I have an opinion about the use of em dashes, commas, semi colons, or any other form of punctuation. I love that writers take chances and use different methods of expressing themselves. As long as I don't have a headache after I finish a chapter, I'll keep reading. For myself, I depend on critique partners, beta readers, and content and line editors to catch my mistakes and guide me in the right direction :-)

As authors, many of us read a lot. It's simply a form of research, even when it's done for pleasure we continue to learn. The writing styles of authors we love seep into us little by little. Because of that, a lot of us may use techniques that have been developed from years and years of reading other authors' work.

Attempting to express ourselves through a variance in our choice of grammar doesn't bother me, unless someone goes to the extreme demonstrated by the author of the article.

Instead, I write this post because of this reference to Emily Dickinson. "Dickinson's excessive use of dashes has been interpreted variously as the result of great stress and intense emotion, as the indication of a mental breakdown, and as a mere idiosyncratic, female habit." This is not a comment from the author of the article, but a quote from another source.

Is it really that simple? Can we relate the increase of the use of em dashes in American writing: blogs, books, newspapers, etc. to a female habit? Is this a compliment or a criticism? Does it mean that women are weaker writers than men, or strong and in fact influential?

Should we celebrate that the number of female writers has increased to the point that they influence communication: informative and creative? And if it's such a bad thing, why are so many people doing it? Didn't other people before the author of the cited article or the author of Emily Dickinson's Volcanic Punctuation realize this was a bad bad thing? A "female" thing.

I don't know the answer to my own question. But, I'd love to hear what you think.

This is just a portion of "I heard a FLY buzz--when I died--"

I willed my Keepsakes--Signed away
What portion of me be
Assignable -- and then it was
There interposed a Fly --

What do you think? Mental breakdown?


Paisley Kirkpatrick said...

Mental breakdown sounds a bit bizarre, but who knows as nowadays 'they' try to pigeonhole everything. I use a dash every now and then, but I'd bet in a 90,000 word story, there might be five at the most. I never can figure out how to make the long dash, so I try to stay away from them as a matter of surviving bad grammar.

I'd say as many as you've shown, it would be as irritating as overdoing accents. :)

Angela said...

Paisley, I think you're right. It doesn't really matter what punctuation you favor...if you overuse it, it'll become annoying. A balance of it all keeps the reader interested and the story moving.

Josie said...

I don't think the dashes meant that at all. I love to dash---I mean dashes--- :)