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Monday, September 28, 2015

Week 39: Use Parallel Structure to Create Rhythm

by Tamara Passey

Last week Valerie mentioned a little something called rhythm. This week we're learning another tool to create it.

How does parallel structure create rhythm? 

Imagine a train on the tracks in the above picture...can you hear the steady sound of the wheels turning? Can you feel the momentum? Now what if one of those tracks were not parallel to the other and the train derailed? Not a pretty sight or sound. 

So for the purposes of this week, the train is your sentence and you are the conductor. Your job? Don't let your sentence go off the tracks.

Keep your structure parallel. This means you need to know your nouns from your adjectives as well as your verbs. It helps to know your noun phrases from your verbal nouns, or gerunds, too. But this doesn't need to be an intense study of the different parts of speech. This is rhythm we are talking about. Read these sentences and I bet you'll be able to hear the consistency--or lack of it, even if you can't put your finger on why.

Let's start with something most of us have heard from Alexander Pope:

"To err is human, forgiving is divine."

Did you catch that? Like a train screeching off the tracks. 

"To err is human, to forgive divine."

Ah, that's better.

Here are two correct structures:

"Language is not a carving; it's a curl of breath, a breeze in the pines. (no surprise this quote is from poet and environmental activist Gary Snyder.)
 "In the writing process, the more a thing cooks, the better. (Nobel Prize-winning author Doris Lessing.)1
Choose a pattern and stick to it. Remember your readers want consistency. And consistent parallel structure will keep your sentences humming along the tracks.

1. Mastering The Craft, Wilbers, p. 216 

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