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Syntactic Flex

©2010 by Robert J Ray and Jack Remick

The discipline of writing sometimes means you have to let go of what you know before you can discover the depth of the writing you seek. We have developed some techniques to take you deeper.

When you write, practice the discipline of “syntactic flex” using three variations:

Short sentence, chaining, and long sentence release.

Short sentence means—simple declarative writing.

Chainingmeans you use words like links of a chain. To chain on paper, you repeat the last word of the previous sentence or syntactic unit when you start the next one.

Long Sentence Release (LSR for short) trains the writer to write with the long breath and so when you come to a place where your internal editor says put a period there if you please but instead of putting a period you keep your hand moving and to keep your hand moving you use connectives like AND and SO and WHEN and THEN and AND SO and AND THEN and BUT and AND WHEN and sometimes even BUT WHEN and lots of repetition….

Why do you we want you to do this? The short answer is–Rhythm.

Rhythm is a key to strong writing. You repeat key words that pull your reader’s eyes down the page using a rhetorical device called conduplication. You can repeat words at the beginning  of sentences (in rhetoric called anaphora), in the middle (chaining, in rhetoric, is called anadiplosis), or at the end of sentences where it is called epistrophe. Rhythm separates your writing from flat writing. Using short sentences followed by chaining followed by a bout of long sentence release forces you into new rhythmic patterns. So, give it a shot:

1. Short sentence: The movie that changed my life was called….

2. Chaining:  I was X….years old when I saw it.

3. Long Sentence Release: The theater was in the town where I lived and…

Now go back to your short sentences, rewrite that passage using the LSR (Long Sentence Release) and listen to the rhythm changes in your prose.

For an added rhythmic assault try using all three techniques plus anaphora and epistrophe in a single writing. Chances are the results with startle, puzzle and excite you. Here’s an example of the process worked all the way through:

Short sentences:  He drove to the Mall. He bought four CDs. All of them bad. Crap. Tossed them into the trash. Wanted to buy books. Ugly. Ugly. Blasphemous. Torn.

Chaining: He drove to the Mall. Mall smelled like a horse barn. Barn doors gaped open. Opening to the feed bin rat tracked. Tracked spoor to the house in back. Back door jammed with newspapers.

Long sentence: He drove to the Mall in his hybrid dual mode anti-pollution Honda Hybrid and when he parked he smelled a stench that reminded him of his trip to Fresno but he didn’t crave grapes too sweet and so he slid into the driver’s seat and cranked up the engine like a kid cranking a wind-up toy and then….

Anaphora:  We have their teeth; we have their bones; we have their pictures.

He drove to the Mall.
He drove to the Mall in his pink hybrid.
And he watched shop keepers gouging customers.
And he checked his watch because he was late.
Later than usual.
Later than last night.
Later than last week.
Always late.
Always.

Epistrophe:

Their teeth, we have; their bones, we have, their pictures we have. We don’t have their soft tissue. To make sense of it, we must have their soft tissue. We have nothing unless we have their soft tissue.

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2 Comments

  1. This is a good user-friendly example for me right now, working on getting more rhythm in my writing. Thank you, Mindy

    Saturday, January 15, 2011 at 7:44 am | Permalink
  2. Jack Remick wrote:

    Hi Mindy. When you’re ready, take a look at Robert Harris’ book on rhetorical devices. There’s a link in the syntactic flex piece. There are other sources for rhetoric–this is an online source:
    http://grammar.about.com
    click style and figures of speech

    Saturday, January 15, 2011 at 10:00 am | Permalink

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  1. Creating Tone and Voice in Writing | Literary Liaisons on Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 7:47 am

    […] why reading your work out loud is so critical.) Robert Ray and Jack Remick teach a technique called ‘chaining’ and ‘long sentence release’ that I find useful when trying to unearth the tone of whatever I’m […]

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