Sunday, November 16, 2014

NaNoWriMo: A Lens on Plain and Creative Styles

Rae Newby

In my previous critique, I examined the website for NaNoWriMo, looking at official style. This time, I am going to examine different samples of text in order to locate and break down the usage of plain language and creative style. NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month, is a challenge for writers, both professional and those new to the art, to attempt to write a 50,000 word novel throughout the month of November. Because it’s a website for writers, one would expect to find mountains of creative style, right? Throughout this critique, I’ll examine a few select passages from the website and determine qualities that make them particularly plain or, in certain cases, creative.
The first one is from the website’s ‘regions’ page. The page is designed to find an area to align oneself with in order to receive news and find other writers nearby. The following is the description for the page:
“Think of your home region as your Hogwarts house. It will be easily found in the top menu, and your word count and donations will go toward its totals.”
A clear distinction of plain style is the use of ‘your’ to indicate that this passage is directed towards the reader, rather than using lengthy and detached terminology such as ‘participants,’ the website uses clear and simple wording to get the message across and make the reader feel as though they belong. The Hogwarts reference is an obvious nod to the Harry Potter series, using a popular culture icon as a creative simile to grant insight as to what a home region can do for a writer. 
When entered into the readability calculator, these two sentences resulted in a Flesch-Kincaid rating of 81.3 and an average grade level of 6.8. Both of these numbers indicate that a majority of seventh graders can easily read and comprehend the passage.
The next entry I’ll examine is from the NaNoWriMo ‘prep’ page. This page is to help writers find inspiration and drive to attempt the challenge. By offering a numbered list of tips and tricks, it is to help potential authors take steps to prepare prior to the start of November.
“Well, the big NaNo decision, that is… Are you a planner or a pantser?

Here’s the difference:

You [planner] believe in rigorous preparation.
You’ll spend the months before November carefully fleshing out characters, building worlds, and plotting your story.
On November 1, you’ll have an outline—or at least lots of helpful notes.

You [pantser] believe in hardcore spontaneity.
You’ll spend the months before November stocking up on inspiration and mayyybe a vague idea or two (if you’re ambitious).
On November 1, you’ll have a blank document and your imagination.

We think both are equally valid! It all depends on the type of writer you are.
And even if you’re a pantser, we recommend reading through the links below… You never know what might inspire you.”
This section is a bit more difficult to decipher, though it came out with a Flesch-Kincaid score of 68.6 and an average grade level of 7.4. Still, both of these scores indicate that it would be comprehensive to most seventh graders.
This section uses two columns to differentiate the qualities of ‘planners’ and ‘pantsers,’ those who plan far in advance and those who don’t. Again, the use of direct address is a sign of plain language, as well as the first-person use of ‘we,’ used to refer to the collective group of NaNoWriMo administrators.
In addition to plain style, this passage invites the use of creative style. The website doesn’t seem to give any etymology behind the word, but as far as I can guess, the term ‘pantser’ comes from the phrase “Flying by the seat of their pants.” The reason I focus on this word is because it is a perfect example of creative style. A made-up word that playfully invites those who may not feel qualified for their challenge is exactly what one might expect from a website built as a writing community.
Additional examples of creative style include the extra ‘Y’s in ‘mayyybe,’ offering a drawn out, playful, and almost doubtful description of a pantser. The use of ellipses offers a sense of lackadaisical pauses, which would not be used in official style.
Though there are a few longer words, such as ‘spontaneity’ and ‘rigorous,’ none of them are strictly jargon for the field and words anyone can understand. Other than these few words, the format is very plain and simple, with each column headed by helpful badges of an organized clipboard and a pair of pants to clearly state which column is for which person.
There is one last excerpt I wanted to examine. This one is from the ‘local volunteers’ page, discussing those who dedicate some of their spare time to help writers in their area with general questions related to the competition.
“NaNoWriMo is not an online-only event! We have local volunteers called Municipal Liaisons (MLs) all over the world. You can find your region here (it’s best to search by state or province) and click through to its regional forum. You will see your ML(s) at the top.
This one resulted in a slightly less difficult reading level when entered into the readability calculator. Having a Flesch-Kincaid score of 72.3 and an average grade level of 6.5, it is probably understood by most sixth graders, even.
The short sentences and use of first-person indicate plain style, while, like the previous example, there isn’t any use of field-specific jargon that makes it inaccessible. The only thing remotely close is the reference to ‘Municipal Liaisons,’ although the term is explained as the passage continues. The usage of parentheses to insert additional information is, like the ellipses mentioned earlier, a tactic used in plain style. Or, at the very least, outside of official style.
It is interesting to note how often the lines between plain style and creative style tend to blur in this situation. This combination made it an interesting subject to take apart and analyze, breaking it down and discovering even the smallest elements that make a passage of text readable.
My objective in analyzing the NaNoWriMo website for both of these critiques was to show that both sides of plain and official existed in the same place, as well as examine something I find interesting. I plan to participate in the challenge, so it was fun to look a little closely at the text written to support it and keep it running.

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