Improving Your Writing Using Parataxis, Hypotaxis, and Colloquialism

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Polish your manuscripts by applying techniques used by authors like Tolkien and HemingwayImage by Lina Verovaya, Unsplash

You have completed your manuscript after much elbow grease and now you turn the pages to read it and hope — hope to feel as enchanted as you did when you read The Hobbit. But even after a chapter you don’t feel that magical. It isn’t as good as you thought. Your heart sinks.

It has happened with me as it happens with numerous writers, and we begin to wonder whether Tolkien and Martin are truly humans.

Let me reveal the truth. They are humans. Clever humans. They didn’t just penned down their million-dollar novel idea (which is, by the way, a huge deed in itself) and blindly submitted it.

They polished it. Thoroughly.

Polishing items—be it shoes, wood or words — makes them pleasing to the eyes; as Robert Graves said, “There is no such thing as good writing, only good rewriting.”

If you want your essay, short story, novel, or any other writing piece to appear more lively and appeal better to the readers, Parataxis, Hypotaxis, and Colloquialism are there to serve. They are a knock away.


Parataxis is derived from the Greek words: para (besides) + taxis (arrangement).

According to Google, Parataxis is a literary technique that favors short, simple sentences, without conjunctions or with the use of coordinating, but not with subordinating conjunctions.

Ernest Hemingway is renowned for using parataxis, as he once commented, “To be successful in writing, use short sentences,”, and displayed it in sentences like this:

The steer was down now, his neck stretched out, his head twisted, he lay the way he had fallen. — The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

To make the images and action come abruptly and hence move rapidly in the readers’ minds, Hemmingway added commas, dividing the sentence into four equal halves.

He linked images and ideas with the forward motion of the events, and where a beefy description wasn’t required, carved a straight, quick way to the truths. Short, simple sentences.

The tones associated with short sentences are usually tension-giving and sudden; they can be also used for adding emphasis.

Some examplesHe came to the river. The river was there. — Big Two-Hearted River by Ernest HemingwayThere is one mirror in my house. It is behind a sliding panel in the hallway upstairs. — Divergent by Veronica RothWanda Petronski. Most of the children in Room Thirteen didn’t have names like that. — A Hundred Dresses by Eleanor EstesHypotaxis

Parataxis’s opposite is Hypotaxis, formed by the Greek terms: hypo (under) + taxis (arrangement).

According to Google, Hypotaxis is the grammatical arrangement of functionally similar but unequal constructs; certain constructs are more important than others inside a sentence.

J. R. R. Tolkien is renowned for using hypotaxis, and reading his works make me quite breathless like the one given below.

By some curious chance one morning long ago in the quiet of the world, when there was less noise and more green, and the hobbits were still numerous and prosperous, and Bilbo Baggins was standing at his door after breakfast smoking an enormous long wooden pipe that reached nearly down to his woolly toes (neatly brushed) — Gandalf came by. Gandalf! If you had heard only a quarter of what I have heard about him, and I have only heard very little of all there is to hear, you would be prepared for any sort of a remarkable tale. — The Hobbit by J. R. R Tolkien

People think Parataxis takes the shortest time to read. Wrong. Its Hypotaxis. We read rapidly because of the number of commas and clauses, their varying lengths and the hierarchy present between them within one sentence.

Hypotaxis is also a handy tool if you want to persuade audiences; it will make them feel the weight of words on them — that is the purpose of Hypotaxis: putting several clauses in one sentence to stifle, convince, transmit a feel, engage, vitalize and stimulate the reader.

Some examplesLate in the winter of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time to thinking about death. — The Fault in Our Stars by John GreenThere were green trees with trunks of dark smoke: their leaves opened like a whole spring unfolding in a moment, and their shining branches dropped glowing flowers down upon the astonished hobbits, disappearing with a sweet scent just before they touched their upturned faces. — The Fellowship of The Ring by J. R. R. TolkienColloquialism

We derive colloquialism from the Latin term colloquium meaning conversation. According to Google, Colloquialism is the linguistic style used for casual communication.

Colloquialism is a great technique to give unique personalities and authenticity to the characters, as well as sprinkle relatability and lifelike instances to make readers feel home.

Which below written sentence did you like the best to hear?

“Hello, my friend, Jon. How are you?”OR,“How’s life, Jon?”

The first sentence stifled me even as I thought of it. How believable does the second dialogue sound. You never call someone my friend unless you want to mock him or her.

Some examplesThe Widow Douglas, she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer, I lit out. — Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Mark Twain used sivilize instead of civilize along with several other grammatical errors to give a distinct voice to the character and demonstrate the literacy level of Finn.

“Yeh don’ have ter be ashamed of what yeh are.” — The Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling

Even without telling the speaker all of us will know — by his omission of the letter ‘t’ and the crooked accent — that Rubeus Hagrid spoke those lines. J. K. Rowling constructed the semi-educated half-giant’s personality so vivid just by altering the pronunciations.

There are several other literary techniques out there to explore, but these three will suffice for now that we can use to communicate with our readers better.

Improving Your Writing Using Parataxis, Hypotaxis, and Colloquialism was originally published in The Writing Cooperative on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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  • August 30, 2021
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