Sunday, November 16, 2014

NaNoWriMo: Example or Necessity?

For this critique, I have decided to examine the website for National Novel Writing Month, or The goal of the website is to attract writers of all walks of life and all levels of skill to their challenge. During the month of November, the aim of NaNoWriMo is for all participants to write a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. Every writer works on their own, but log their word count per day on the website and interact with each as a source of motivation.
Now comes the important question: For something so laid back, is it necessary to present welcoming information in official style? The following is the mission statement from the website’s ‘About’ page:
National Novel Writing Month organizes events where children and adults find the inspiration, encouragement, and structure they need to achieve their creative potential. Our programs are web-enabled challenges with vibrant real-world components, designed to foster self-expression while building community on local and global levels.”
This passage, when run through the readability scale, resulted in a Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease score of 30 and an average grade level of 16.0. The wording is not overly intricate, but it is laced with several lengthy words that could easily be replaced with simpler terminology. Examples include replacing “designed to foster self-expression” with something akin to “built to strengthen creative minds” or some such.
Additionally, the passage includes at least two prepositional phrases with “to achieve their creative potential” and “on local and global levels.”
Let’s examine another quote from the website. This piece comes from the ever-attractive Terms of Service:
“By accessing this website, you agree to these terms of usage and limitations of warranty. In particular, you agree not to use this data to allow, enable, or otherwise make possible, dissemination or collection of this data, in part or in its entirety, for any purpose, such as the transmission of unsolicited advertising and solicitations of any kind, including spam. You further agree not to use this data to enable high-volume, automated, or robotic electronic processes designed to collect or compile this data for any purpose, including mining this data for your own personal or commercial purposes. Any use of this data for any other purpose is expressly forbidden without the prior written permission of the Office of Letters and Light.”
This passage rates with an average grade level of 16.7 and on the Flesch-Kincaid scale with a 25.4. According to the Wikipedia article on Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease, anything below a 30 is considered to be easily understood by college graduates. Additionally, the grade level suggests that this passage is intended for those higher than 16th grade, or a college graduate. Something like the terms of service is expected to have such a difficult reading level, but even from a website which only gains money through donations? What could gain from using such high-level jargon?
The only answer I can assume is that the staff charged with writing these terms is trying to appear professional by keeping a set of terms of service that someone might expect to see. Also, the website is built for writer’s, so it may be possible that the maintainers expect users are well-versed in lengthy words and their definitions.
In this example, there are also uses of appositive, prepositional phrases, and subordination sentences structures. There is an example of appositive in the second sentence, on the third line of text: “such as the transmission of unsolicited advertising and solicitations of any kind.” This sentence is difficult to decipher, as there is another section of text between the noun and the appositive.
The subordination is also difficult, as it is the same segment as the appositive. This part of the sentence is dismissed by the use of ‘such as’ and surrounded by commas. It is an afterthought, unnecessary, but offers further and more in-depth description.
 Prepositional phrases are easy to point out, as any segment starting with ‘to’ or ‘of’ is one. For example, the very last line of the quoted text reads, “of the Office of Letters and Light.” And in the third sentence, we see another: “to collect or compile this data.”
We’ll take a look at one more segment of text. The final piece comes from an FAQ response for the website:
“You win NaNoWriMo by writing 50,000 words of your novel between November 1 and November 30. (Or during Camp NaNoWriMo, just reaching your personal word-count goal.) There’s no limit on how many people can win! Just be sure that you’ve defined a novel on our site, and that you validate your novel’s word count at the end of the month.”
This piece is considerably easier to read, ranking with Flesch-Kincaid at a score of 74.5—readable by most preteens—and an average grade level of 6.8. This example is much easier to understand than the other two shown in this assignment. As it is a critique, I felt it was important to show a side of the website that wasn’t so formal and difficult.
Although simple to read, this passage yet contains both coordination and prepositional phrases. The coordination appears throughout the final sentence, evident by the use of a comma followed by ‘and.’ Prepositional phrases likely do not need to be explained at this point, as they continue to be led by the use of ‘by,’ ‘of,’ ‘on,’ or ‘at.’
Now back to the original issue expressed in the title: does NaNoWriMo use official style because it is offering an example to aspiring authors, or because it is necessary for professionalism? My personal belief is that it is for professionalism as an organization. As an author who has attempted the challenge in years past, I have found that the staff often encourages creative and unique expression. Additionally, as I showed in the final example, there are uses of informal speech on the website, and often quite frequently.
After perusing the staff listing on their website, I feel it’s important to mention that the directors of NaNoWriMo are a varied sort of former English teachers and holders of Bachelors and Masters degrees. This is not an organization run by people without experience, as all of them are knowledgeable of creative writing to a fair extent.
I, personally, find their use of official style to be used in the right places at the right time, such as in the term of service. For the most part, the website is very relaxed and welcoming, perfect for aspiring authors who are coming to try their hand at a novel or for experienced writers who want a challenge.Rae Newby

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.