PARALLEL STRUCTURE by Valerie Ipson
Here's an exercise to illustrate this week's lesson (adapted from Mastering the Craft by Stephen Wilbers, p 134):
Match the first part of the following famous two-part quotes with the second part (answers below):
A. Writing a novel is like driving a car at night.
B. To be a novelist or short story writer,
C. The literary gift is a mere accident--
D. There are three rules for writing a novel.
1. you have to first pretend to be a novelist or short story writer. (Charles Baxter)
2. Unfortunately, nobody knows what they are. (W. Somerset Maugham)
3. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. (E.L. Doctrow)
4. [it] is as often bestowed upon idiots who have nothing to say worth hearing as it is denied to strenuous sages. (Max Beerbohm)
You've just had a lesson in parallel structure. It's like a one-two punch which, admittedly, is not that pleasant if you're on the receiving end, but when it's found in literature (or great quotes) it's very appealing and satisfying. As Wilbers says, "The first sentence makes a statement; the second sentence undercuts it. It's the ironic twist that surprises the reader and makes the quip memorable."
This kind of structure can be used in our fiction from description to dialogue. Look for it in your manuscript or find places where you can add it for a surprising punch.
ANSWERS: A-3, B-1, C-4, D-2