Grammar for Fiction Writers: Busy Writer's Guides Book (2014)

Part III. Grammar Rules Every Writer Needs to Know and Follow

Chapter 16. Lack of Parallelism

A lack of parallelism is important to snuff out because it can result in funny sentences. It’s also important because parallelism in lists makes your writing more beautiful to read and easier to understand.

Here’s a sentence lacking parallelism.

To contribute to Easter dinner, Lillian peeled two potatoes, three yams, and baked a pie.

Your reader will understand this sentence, but it will feel awkward. And grammar Nazis will snicker at you behind their hands.

Take the sentence apart and you’ll see the problem.

To contribute to Easter dinner, Lillian …

peeled two potatoes

three yams

baked a pie

You wouldn’t say, “To contribute to Easter dinner, Lillian three yams.” At least, I hope you wouldn’t. It sounds like it belongs in a spoof of Top Gun.

“What’s your name?”

“Lillian Threeyams.”

“Threeyams? Did your parents not like you or something?”

You need to add a verb in front of three yams to make this sentence parallel. Peeledwashedchopped, or mashed would all be correct.

To contribute to Easter dinner, Lillian peeled two potatoes, cleaned three yams, and baked a pie.

You’ll most likely see lists in fiction in the form of the sentence above. For those of you who also write nonfiction, watch your bullet-point lists—this applies to them as well. Take each piece of your list and read it alone with the opening. Does it work? Or do you end up with a “Lillian three yams” atrocity?