September 12th, 2021
Taken from Roy Peter Clark’s, Writing Tools: 55 Essential Strategies for EveryWriter
Establish a pattern, then give it a twist.
“Use parallels where you can; equivalent thoughts demand parallel construction,” wrote
Sheridan Baker in The Practical Stylist. Balance single words with single words, phrases with phrases, clauses with clauses.
Martin Luther King, Jr. builds a crescendo from the repetition of words and grammatical structure, in this case a series of prepositional phrases with a noun designating mountains and an adjective defining majesty:
“So let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania! Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.” Philip Roth, known for his long sentences, uses nineteen parallel phrases in this passage from The Plot Against America:
“The men worked fifty, sixty, even seventy or more hours a week; the women worked all the time, with little assistance from labor-saving devices, washing laundry, ironing shirts, mending socks, turning collars, sewing on buttons, mothproofing woolens, polishing furniture, sweeping and washing floors, washing windows, cleaning sinks, tubs, toilets, and stoves, vacuuming rugs, nursing the sick, shopping for food, cooking meals, feeding relatives, tidying closets and drawers, overseeing paint jobs and household repairs, arranging for religious observances, paying bills and keeping the family’s books while simultaneously attending to their children’s health, clothing, cleanliness, schooling, nutrition, conduct, birthdays, discipline, and morale.”
BUT what makes Roth’s passage effective is the occasional variation of the pattern.
Parallelism with a twist memorable. Superman stands not for truth, justice, and patriotism, but “truth, justice, and the American way.”
For your writing warm-up today, make a list of items that are parallel, but with a twist. Think of the contents of your “junk” drawer, the glove box or trunk of your car, your purse, or even a list for the grocery or hardware store.