How the Written Universe Works: 7 Rules of Construction #amwriting

Words, carefully chosen and arranged with care, have the power to bring your writing to life.

7 rules of constructionWe who write because we love words spend a great deal of time framing what our words say. We choose some words above others because they say what we mean more precisely, or they color our prose with the right emotion.

We take our chosen words and bind them into small packets we call sentences. We take those sentences and build paragraphs, which become novels.

The author’s job is to understand how the grammar of their native language works. The great authors use those rules to energize their prose.

However, when it comes to word choices, some things are universal to the best work in all genres, from literary fiction and poetry to sci-fi and fantasy, to thrillers and cozy mysteries, or even Romance.

The world is in a state of flux—money is tight. In the US, the cost of getting a university education is prohibitive, with students incurring massive debt that follows them for years afterward. Some people have the luxury and the desire to seek a degree in writing.

Others must rely on self-education. To that end, here are seven rules professional writing programs teach about sentence and paragraph construction.

One: Verbs—we choose words with power. In English, words that begin with hard consonants sound tougher and carry more power.

Verbs are power words. Fluff words and obscure words used too freely are kryptonite, sapping the strength from our prose.

Use Active ProseTwo: Placement of verbs in the sentence can strengthen or weaken it.

  • Moving the verbs to the beginning of the sentence makes it stronger.
  • Nouns followed by verbs make active prose.

I ran toward danger, never away.

Three: Parallel construction smooths awkward phrasing. When two or more ideas are compared in one sentence, each clause should use the same grammatical structure. They are parallel, and the reader isn’t jarred by them, absorbing what is said naturally.

What parallelism means can be shown by a quote attributed to Julius Caesar, who used the phrase “I came; I saw; I conquered” in a letter to the Roman Senate after he had achieved a quick victory in the Battle of Zela. Caesar gives equal importance to the different ideas of arriving, seeing, and conquering.

Buddha quoteFour: Contrast—In literature, we use contrast to describe the difference(s) between two or more things in one sentence. The blue sun burned like fire, but the ever-present wind chilled me.

Five: Similes show the resemblances between two things through the use of words such as “like” and “as.” The blue sun burned like fire.

Similes differ from metaphors, which suggest something “is” something else. The pale moon shone, a lamp in the sky that comforted me.

Six: Deliberate repetition used occasionally emphasizes emotion and atmosphere but doesn’t increase wordiness.

  • Repetition of the last word in a line or clause.
  • Repetition of words at the start of clauses or verses.
  • Repetition of words or phrases in the opposite sense.
  • Repetition of words broken by some other words.
  • Repetition of the same words at the end and start of a sentence.
  • Repetition of a phrase or question to stress a point.
  • Repetition of the same word at the end of each clause.
  • Repetition of an idea, first in negative terms and then in positive terms.
  • Repetition of words of the same root with different endings.
  • Repetition at both the end and beginning of a sentence, paragraph, or scene.
  • Repetition is a construction in poetry where the last word of one clause becomes the first word of the next clause.

Every book is a quotation, and every house is a quotation out of all forests, and mines, and stone quarries; and every man is a quotation from all his ancestors.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson, Prose and Poetry. [1]

alliterationSeven: Alliteration is the occurrence of the same letter (or sound) at the beginning of successive words, such as the familiar tongue-twister: Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. Alliteration lends a poetic feeling to passages and enhances the atmosphere of a given scene without creating wordiness.

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, (The Raven, by Edgar Allan Poe 1845) [2]

When I see birches bend to left and right

Across the lines of straighter darker trees, (Birches, by Robert Frost 1916) [3]

The way we habitually construct our prose is our voice, and that voice determines the impact of our work. Different readers have widely different tastes, but no one enjoys bad writing.

Constructing our work to fit the market we are writing for is crucial to finding readers. However, all readers want to find good writing and are attracted to work that tells a story with atmosphere and emotion.

Neil_Gaiman_QuoteActive phrasing generates emotion. Sometimes, using similes, repetition, and alliteration in subtle applications enhances the worldbuilding without beating your reader over the head.

We all know worldbuilding must be organic and natural, but we don’t all know how to achieve it. Subtle application of these seven rules will empower your worldbuilding. The casual reader will be immersed but unaware of the mechanics. They won’t realize why the work is powerful.


Credits and Attributions:

[1] Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Complete Works. Published in 1904. Vol. VIII. Letters and Social Aims, VI. Quotation and Originality, Bartleby.com, accessed (June 11, 2022)

[2] Wikipedia contributors, “The Raven,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Raven&oldid=908701892 (accessed June 11, 2022).

[3] Wikipedia contributors, “Birches (poem),” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Birches_(poem)&oldid=886359747 (accessed June 11, 2022).

6 Comments

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6 responses to “How the Written Universe Works: 7 Rules of Construction #amwriting

  1. Pingback: Friday’s Findings: Sketching Out a Scene – Andrew M. Friday

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