To decide whether and how to employ the strategies discussed here, first consider the conventions associated with the kind of writing you're doing and the intended audience. How you answer the following questions will tell you which stylistic experiments will be welcome in your writing and which wouldn't be appropriate. For example:
When a writer repeats the same grammatical unit—the same word, phrase, sentence structure, or even paragraph structure—she's employing parallel structure. Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech is one very famous example of parallel structure:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today! . . .
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of "interposition" and "nullification" — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.
This excerpt demonstrates King's strategic use of organization and language for rhetorical effect. The stylistic features of parallelism (indicated in bold type) are visible at every grammatical level. For example:
Using parallelism, King emphasizes key images and arguments. Note too that King's repetition never risks becoming redundancy. Recognizing the line that separates the two takes some time and skill, but one key to King's effective use of repetition is context. King was a minister, so repeating phrases such as "With this faith," suggest the repetition of prayer and not a problem of needing different words to express the same idea. Additionally, his deliberate use of "will" as a verb throughout summons an image of the future when his dream will come into being. Consider the impact of replacing "will" with another verb. Would King have achieved the same effect?
Conjunctions indicate a relationship between elements in a sentence. In the sentence, "I ate an apple, a banana, a pear, and a mango," for example, the conjunction "and" indicates that "a mango" is the last element in a series. It is possible to omit the conjunction or repeat it for stylistic purposes:
In the second example, repetition draws attention to each element equally, giving importance and emphasis to all items. Omitting the "and" in the third suggests that the list is potentially endless.
In the example from "I Have a Dream," King chooses to omit "and" in "With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together," suggesting that the list of what people of all races can do together is endless if we have the understanding that all of us are equal.
In English, conventional word order follows the pattern of Subject→Verb→Object (SVO), as in "I pet the dog." For stylistic purposes, you can change this expected order of elements to create emphasis. King varies word order in the sentence, "Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends." Here word order follows the pattern Object→Subject→Verb (OSV). Conventional word order would read this way: "I say to you today my friends, let us not wallow." Changing expected word order allows King to foreground the message, "Let us not wallow."
Varying sentence and paragraph length can also help you emphasize important ideas. Several long sentences followed by a short, direct sentence can offer readers a helpful shift in sentence rhythm and direct their attention to an idea. This strategy also works well in paragraphs. King's speech demonstrates this kind of variation:
The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.
We cannot walk alone.
And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.
We cannot turn back.
There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by a sign stating: "For Whites Only." We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream."
After some medium-length paragraphs, King breaks the pattern with three short sentences: "We cannot walk alone. And as we walk . . . . We cannot turn back." These short sentences also emphasize and introduce the main ideas of the previous and subsequent paragraphs. Following these short sentences, King introduces another variation with a rather long paragraph filled with elaboration, examples, and illustration of his main ideas. The effect adds both interest and momentum to the speech.
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