Author Topic: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?  (Read 1907 times)  

Offline kw3000

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Nerdy as it sounds, I enjoy analyzing what makes a given writer's prose tick. I imagine many writers like to do this. I get a kick out of Hemingway in particular for varying reasons, but I especially enjoy his paratactic approach, something I admit I do try to emulate here and there, as stylistically it just agrees with me. Here is wikipedia's definition for parataxis:

"a literary technique, in writing or speaking, that favors short, simple sentences, with the use of coordinating rather than subordinating conjunctions."

What's your opinion of this style? Do you tend toward it in your own work or just the opposite?

In learning about hypotaxis I have to say it's displeasing to my eyes just reading examples of it. The funny thing is, as much as eschew the approach generally when working on fiction, I think I tend toward it casually, in emails for instance, which annoys me to no end.  :)

Here is wikipedia's take on hypotaxis:

"the grammatical arrangement of functionally similar but 'unequal' constructs, i.e., certain constructs have more importance than others inside a sentence."

To lend perhaps more clarity, here's an example of parataxis in fiction, from 'The Crossing' by Cormac McCarthy:

"He ate the last of the eggs and wiped the plate with the tortilla and ate the tortilla and drank the last of the coffee and wiped his mouth and looked up and thanked her."

Another example of parataxis, from 'Men Without Women' by Ernest Hemingway:

"Manuel drank his brandy. He felt sleepy himself. It was too hot to go out into the town. Besides there was nothing to do. He wanted to see Zurito. He would go to sleep while he waited."

A third example of parataxis, from Hemingway's 'The Sun Also Rises':

"The steer was down now, his neck stretched out, his head twisted, he lay the way he had fallen."

For contrast...

Here's an example of hypotaxis in fiction, from 'The Ring of Time' by E.B. White:

"After the lions had returned to their cages, creeping angrily through the chutes, a little bunch of us drifted away and into an open doorway nearby, where we stood for a while in semi-darkness watching a big brown circus horse go harumphing around the practice ring..."

Another example of hypotaxis, from 'Notes of a Native Son' by James Baldwin:

"In later years, particularly when it began to be clear that this 'education' of mine was going to lead me to perdition, he...warned me that my white friends in high school were not really my friends and that I would see, when I was older, how white people would do anything to keep a [person of color] down. Some of them could be nice, he admitted, but none of them were to be trusted and most of them were not even nice. The best thing was to have as little to do with them as possible. I did not feel this way and I was certain, in my innocence, that I never would."

A third example of hypotaxis, from 'The Tale of Peter Rabbit' by Beatrix Potter:

"After losing [his shoes], he ran on four legs and went faster, so that I think he might have got away altogether if he had not unfortunately run into a gooseberry net, and got caught by the large buttons on his jacket."

How about you? Is there a particular style that you prefer, or is it something you don't spend much time considering? If it is something that interests you, do you prefer parataxis, hypotaxis or perhaps none of the above or somewhere in between?

Always fun to engage in a conversation about craft.  8)

Ken Ward

Online jb1111

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #1 on: June 11, 2018, 07:46:18 PM »
I suppose I use a mix of both. There are times when run-on sentences like the Cormac McCarthy example are very useful; they provide a sense of urgency when used the right way.

I will also sometimes use longer sentences when describing something -- a person, or nature.

However, shorter feels better most of the time to me, though, when it comes to sentences.

Overall clarity will trump the more literary style nearly every time.

Offline Lynn Is A Pseudonym

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #2 on: June 11, 2018, 07:59:33 PM »
I can honestly say I've never once in my life thought about this. However, I still found reading about it interesting!

I've never read any of Cormac McCarthy's books, but I can say based on that sample, it would probably wear me out.

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #3 on: June 11, 2018, 08:13:02 PM »
I can honestly say I've never once in my life thought about this. However, I still found reading about it interesting!

I've never read any of Cormac McCarthy's books, but I can say based on that sample, it would probably wear me out.

The Road is an interesting read. No quote marks, anywhere, where people are speaking.

Offline Becca Mills

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #4 on: June 11, 2018, 08:15:12 PM »
Lol, hypotaxis required a refresher course for me. I don't think I've run into or thought about that term since grad school.

I don't use parataxis much. It tends to stand out as a noticeable rhetorical device, and I'm generally going for transparent, unnoticeable prose. So ... once or twice in a book maybe? I use hypotaxis all the time, though. If you don't use subordinating structures, it's hard not to get trapped in short-sentence land. I don't like that.

Offline sela

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #5 on: June 11, 2018, 08:16:17 PM »
Ooh, totally nerdy conversation!

I think I'm more of hypotaxis author than parataxis.

It feels smoother. While I enjoyed Hemingway and McCarthy's The Road, for example, I tend to prefer something that flows better. I found McCarthy's The Road to be a painful read, both in terms of the content and form.

Actually, I prefer not to even think about the language although sometimes, as an author, I stop to appreciate my fellow author's skill at a turn of a phrase.

I mainly read thrillers and SF for pleasure so I'm big on concepts and suspense and less about literary content or form, but I can appreciate an author who has skill with imagery and metaphor. I just want something to force me to keep reading. Most books don't hold my interest.
« Last Edit: June 11, 2018, 08:18:26 PM by sela »

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #6 on: June 11, 2018, 08:17:47 PM »
To be honest, I find questions like this to be a little pointless.  Writers don't sit down at their typewriters (or computers, thee days) and think "Okay, I'm going to use the paratactic method."

And yeah, I have to admit, those example sentences are pretty dull.  Some of them could even be called examples of poor writing.   :-\
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Offline sela

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #7 on: June 11, 2018, 08:20:52 PM »
To be honest, I find questions like this to be a little pointless.  Writers don't sit down at their typewriters (or computers, thee days) and think "Okay, I'm going to use the paratactic method."

And yeah, I have to admit, those example sentences are pretty dull.  Some of them could even be called examples of poor writing.   :-\

No, but it is interesting to look at one's own writing and see it analytically. Some people have that kind of brain and there's nothing wrong with it. And some authors do think about their style and what it is. And there's nothing wrong with that either.  8)

As to poor writing? One man's trash is another man's treasure. For me, story is king and the language is just a vehicle to convey story to the reader.
« Last Edit: June 11, 2018, 08:22:27 PM by sela »

Offline Confused Fairywren

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #8 on: June 11, 2018, 08:31:31 PM »
I've never come across these terms before but the concept is interesting.

I'd say I definitely lean towards hypotaxis and subordinate clauses, but it varies. I don't think about particular literary devices when I write, but I do pay attention to rhythm (that's the closest I can get to describing it). I'll often stop and reread a paragraph and go, "huh, all these sentences have the same structure. Better turn this one into a coordinate clause instead."

Offline P.J. Post

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #9 on: June 11, 2018, 08:38:58 PM »
To be honest, I find questions like this to be a little pointless.  Writers don't sit down at their typewriters (or computers, thee days) and think "Okay, I'm going to use the paratactic method."

And yeah, I have to admit, those example sentences are pretty dull.  Some of them could even be called examples of poor writing.   :-\

Um...some of us actually do, well, I do, anyway. Narrative pacing is really important, especially for establishing mood and emotions. It's like setting up a punch line in a joke, except we have the ability through narrative flow to keep the setup going for thousands of words, even jumping from chapter to chapter and book to book with short, punchy memorable phrases. I'm also influenced by poetry, even how the lines appear on the page, and put a lot of time in working out the rhythm and beats of the prose. Not saying I'm any good at it, just that I work at it.

As for the examples, context usually matters.

Oh...so, back to the OP: both for me, as necessary for whatever it is I'm trying to accomplish. I didn't know they had names. Thanks for the post, craft is always fun.  :)

No, but it is interesting to look at one's own writing and see it analytically. Some people have that kind of brain and there's nothing wrong with it. And some authors do think about their style and what it is. And there's nothing wrong with that either.  8)

As to poor writing? One man's trash is another man's treasure. For me, story is king and the language is just a vehicle to convey story to the reader.

I agree about serving the story, but how we present that story is pretty important too. It's usually where all the feelz are.

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Offline Shawn Inmon

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #10 on: June 11, 2018, 09:07:29 PM »
I like short sentences. Simple sentences. Shorter paragraphs and chapters.

When I polled my readers, I found a sizable percentage of them read my books on their phones, and those that do dislike large, blocky chunks of print.

One of the first things I do on every MS is go through and look for sentences of more than 20 words. I certainly don't take them all out, but I try to simplify as many as I can. I usually average an 82 or so on the Fleisch Readability Scale, which is a sweet spot for me.

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Offline Linn

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #11 on: June 11, 2018, 09:43:37 PM »
I don't think about particular literary devices when I write, but I do pay attention to rhythm (that's the closest I can get to describing it). I'll often stop and reread a paragraph and go, "huh, all these sentences have the same structure. Better turn this one into a coordinate clause instead."

This drives me nuts. I don't seem to notice meter when I'm reading other writers' prose (poetry excluded), but I can't get it out of my head when I'm writing. And just like you said, I end up with a lot of sentences that share the same structure. It's a curse I can't seem to rid myself of. If anyone knows of a cure for this malady, please feel free to post it here.  :)


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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #12 on: June 11, 2018, 10:20:45 PM »
I think reading whole books written in either style would be very difficult. My writing hero is Orwell, whose books I always find very clear and easy to read, and who I think is a more elegant writer than Hemingway.
As a writer I've tried to train myself to vary the length and complexity of sentences as I go along, although I don't always notice sentences rambling on at the time and I often have to disentangle them when editing.
I didn't even know there were terms for this kind of thing - maybe they've only been invented since I was at school!

Offline Colin

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #13 on: June 12, 2018, 12:03:49 AM »
I prefer hippo taxis. They are much roomier than standard taxis.

Online jb1111

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #14 on: June 12, 2018, 12:28:39 AM »
I like short sentences. Simple sentences. Shorter paragraphs and chapters.

When I polled my readers, I found a sizable percentage of them read my books on their phones, and those that do dislike large, blocky chunks of print.


I use shorter paragraphs for much the same reason: I read a couple books on my Kindle and realized just how laborious a process reading massive paragraphs would be on it -- the "pages" on a Kindle are shorter than many book pages, and massive paragraphs are naturally more difficult to read than shorter ones.

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #15 on: June 12, 2018, 12:31:12 AM »
I didn't know the adult version of Dick and Jane was an actual writing style. I just thought it was bad writing.  :o If a story is using all short, simple sentences, I'm not buying it. That is the worst sort of torture to read and is one of my lines in the sand I shall not cross. I will read mixed tense, in-paragraph head hopping, and first person present before reading a book written using this style. It's that jarring to me. Like nails scratching a chalkboard.

I'm very conscious about varying sentence length and structure when writing. I will use short. But only occasionally. To mimic stilted thought. Or fast paced action. And I will use the longer, more subordinating stuff, when articulating how a person is mulling over something, assuming they are in a safe place where the pacing can be slower. Scenic prose is usually medium to long as I come up with visuals to delight like sun reflecting off water ripples in a pond. Also, I vary how sentences begin by sometimes adding phrases to the beginning and ensuring the starting word is different between adjacent sentences or even within the paragraph. The long, run-on sentences are useful for mimicking an excited child exhaling words in a single burst -- fun in small quantities, but exhausting to read an entire book like that.

I concede that on Kindle readers, paragraphs look like walls of text so I tend to paragraph more often to keep that to a minimum. But epic fantasy is sometimes epic in prose, too!  ;D

Offline kw3000

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #16 on: June 12, 2018, 12:53:49 AM »
I appreciate all of the thoughtful responses here. Thank you.

In answer to one of the responses above, I admit it might be stupid of me or a waste of time, but on days when I don't feel like working on my WIP, I will sit down and work on differing stylistic approaches to a new piece. I suppose it might be silly or hackneyed to liken it to working out in a gym, but there it is. Somehow I find it soothing to the mind, and sometimes I find it even excites me. I think that might be because it feels like I'm pushing up against boundaries or the limits of my ability and wondering if there's a way I can expand or move past them.

So, yes, I do consciously decide from time to time to try working paratactically on a given theme as a means of improving or shaping who I am as a writer. Less often I will do the same employing a hypotactic approach, but I will try. I have so much to learn.

Thanks again, everyone.

Oh, and Colin, who needs a roomier hippo taxi when you can simply split up and take a parataxis?  ;D

Ken Ward

Offline Colin

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #17 on: June 12, 2018, 01:35:25 AM »

Oh, and Colin, who needs a roomier hippo taxi when you can simply split up and take a parataxis?  ;D

A pair of taxis generally cost more. But I get your point.  ;)

Offline thesmallprint

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #18 on: June 12, 2018, 02:29:46 AM »
I like rhythm.

Online Jena H

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #19 on: June 12, 2018, 03:34:45 AM »
I've never come across these terms before but the concept is interesting.

I'd say I definitely lean towards hypotaxis and subordinate clauses, but it varies. I don't think about particular literary devices when I write, but I do pay attention to rhythm (that's the closest I can get to describing it). I'll often stop and reread a paragraph and go, "huh, all these sentences have the same structure. Better turn this one into a coordinate clause instead."

This.  It's about flow, about what sounds right.  Not run-on sentences, or sentence which jump around from one topic to another: "He ate the last of the eggs and wiped the plate with the tortilla and ate the tortilla and drank the last of the coffee and wiped his mouth and looked up and thanked her."  Let's face it, if a Kboards newbie posted a sentence like that from his/her first book, everyone would urge a re-write, because it's not a good sentence. 

Jena

Offline thesmallprint

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #20 on: June 12, 2018, 05:10:23 AM »
Slightly off topic but I'd hate to see anyone put off by the McCarthy quote. He's my favourite author so allow for some bias in my comments. When I first came across McCarthy (The Border Trilogy), I almost quit at page 6 because of the style outlined above. But as I read on, I realised he was weaving a tapestry that simply couldn't be judged by a tiny illustrated part. His poetic style draws you into the book ever bit as much as the story itself does. Give him a try. And persevere.

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #21 on: June 12, 2018, 05:36:40 AM »
I would guess I lean towards enjoying parataxis in reading (I love both Hemingway and McCarthy)...though, I may be more a hypo in my writing (possibly something to do with voice).  It's an interesting (and refreshing) question.  Thanks.

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #22 on: June 12, 2018, 05:38:56 AM »
I prefer hippo taxis. They are much roomier than standard taxis.

lol!!!!!!!! ;D

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #23 on: June 12, 2018, 05:47:04 AM »

In answer to one of the responses above, I admit it might be stupid of me or a waste of time, but on days when I don't feel like working on my WIP, I will sit down and work on differing stylistic approaches to a new piece. I suppose it might be silly or hackneyed to liken it to working out in a gym, but there it is. Somehow I find it soothing to the mind, and sometimes I find it even excites me. I think that might be because it feels like I'm pushing up against boundaries or the limits of my ability and wondering if there's a way I can expand or move past them.



There's nothing wrong with this. In fact, one of the things I've found most frustrating and just plain weird about the self pub community is how little people seem to talk about the craft of writing. Some don't even care at all. As long as they're selling they DGAD, and when they're not they try to fix covers and blurbs and all the wrapping paper without stopping to consider their prose is the culprit. That's so ... intellectually incurious.

For the record, I lean more toward hypotaxis in my prose. As a reader ... a mixture of both?

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Re: Craft Discussion: Do you prefer Parataxis or Hypotaxis or neither?
« Reply #24 on: June 12, 2018, 05:50:51 AM »
Currently,  I write a mish mosh of words that sometimes resemble sentences. They will probably end up making my editor cry and want to bash their head on a wall. Is there a style for that???


In all seriousness, when I first read your post I would have sworn you were writting in Latin. For the person that barely took english 2 in college, they basically mean complex or simple sentences right? I like to use a combination of both. Using one or the other solely can be boring to read.
I enjoy reading the nerdy discussions here and sometimes learn something. Eww learning!  :o

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