Sunday, February 28, 2010

Anaphora and Parallel Structure

Beginning to shape the sentence.

The Declaration of Independence is a stirring testimonial that called men to action and inspired them to act in their own best interests. Take a look at it; it’s everywhere, even online. This time, however, simply observe how the author, Thomas Jefferson, and his editor, Benjamin Franklin, begin numerous sentences and phrases with the same word.

Search for “that,” “He has,” and “For” followed by an –ing form of a verb. In reading for these words, you will find anaphora: the practice of repeating words at the beginning of sentences, phrases, or clauses. This element of style can also be identified as effective repetition or parallel structure.

No matter what term describes the practice, it is a powerful beginning. Anaphora makes messages emphatic, clear, and memorable.

Patrick Henry employed anaphora effectively in another gem from American history: his speech before the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1765, more commonly known as the Give me Liberty or Give me Death speech. Anaphora appears often in this speech, notably in paragraph six where Henry reviews what the colonists have done to preserve peace. Henry’s carefully crafted parallel construction lends power to his argument, and that is exactly why writers should play with their wording in order to make good use of parallel phrasing.

Consider a paraphrase of Shakespeare’s memorable comment on the human experience, found in Twelfth Night: some folks are born lucky, others are able to work hard and earn good fortune, and for a few guys, luck just lands in their laps.

When Shakespeare conveys the same idea, his observation leaps off the page and endures for hundreds of years; it is repeated by writers and speakers who have never read Twelfth Night because Shakespeare’s version makes excellent use of anaphora (some) and effective repetition (great and greatness). Shakespeare writes: “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”

Writing Challenge:

Practice beginning sentences and phrases with anaphora. Return to your free writing or the work you did with the word, serendipity. Pluck out significant sentences and passages from your writing. Play with them by adding and deleting words; alter word choices and sentence patterns to add the emphasis and power of anaphora.