Parallelism: This One Word Will Make You an Amazing Writer. Swearsies.

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When I was a Sophomore in High school, my favorite teacher, Daniel Harris, taught me about parallelism. In less than an hour, it changed my writing forever.

Put simply, parallelism is the act of balancing your sentences so they resonate better with a reader. They are easier to understand, simpler to follow and they just FEEL better. I’ll demonstrate.

“Tonight we are offering a pan-seared salmon, an almond-encrusted snapper and trout.”

Can you imagine your first choice at this restaurant isn’t going to be the trout?

When you balance you simply look at the individual clauses in a sentence and make sure they have the same:

  • Word count
  • Punctuation
  • Presentation
  • Value
  • Category
  • Rhythm
  • Syllables if you can

The best time to think about balancing a sentence is when you feel a complex thought has spun out of control and you’re having trouble getting it to all make sense. It’s not just an excuse to get away with writing compound sentences, though to be honest, I am probably guilty of using it that way. Whatever. I like long sentences.

Here’s an example I just did for this article. I was writing a sentence on my bio page:

I started with:

I’ve written for fun artsy stuff: film, tv, radio, theater, stand up as well left brained business roles like technical-writing, marketing, and copy writing.

Ugh. That sentence makes me squeamish looking at it. I have balanced sentence OCD. What are the problems here?

  1. Used a colon in the first clause, not in the second.
  2. The first list doesn’t contain an ‘and’
  3. The second list words don’t match each other in length, number or punctuation
  4. The intros to both clauses are different categories (stuff v roles)

So here was my second try:

I’ve written for fun artsy stuff like film, tv, radio, theater, and stand up as well left brained businessy stuff like technical writing, marketing strategy, and copy writing.

Better. There are a different number of words, but the same number of syllables. I like how playful it is, but I wonder if it is the right tone for the first sentence for my bio. Instead of matching the tone to the first clause from the first one, I’ll try to balance the sentence using the second clause, which feels more professional.

I write from both hemispheres of the brain. I’ve been lucky to have had success with artistic endeavors like writing for television, film and theater. I have also had success with business writing in the form of copywriting, strategy and ghostwriting.

Definitely feels more like a resume. But it seems weird.

What am I really trying to say here?

The bold statement is that I am assigning my writing to parts of my brain.

If that’s what I want to say, why dance around it?

Maybe, like usual, I need to make it much shorter. (sigh, good bye long sentence).

I am a bi-hemisphere writer; I use the right for novels, screenplays and standup, and the left for strategy, content and ghostwriting.

There ya go. Perfectly balanced little sentence. And you can see how even the act of trying to balance a sentence can help you clarify your own thoughts and positions.

I am going to email this to Mr. harris and see if he has any additional thoughts, or god forbid, corrections.