Figures of speech: Four schemes to spruce up your writing

In writing, it’s so important to add variety: of sentence length, sentence type, schemes, tropes. Do you want your reader to fall asleep to the cadence of your words? Not unless you write bedtime stories. Today, let’s talk about schemes.

What are schemes? They’re figures of speech that are a deviation from the ordinary pattern or arrangement of words (this definition will make more sense when you see the examples below). We all use them; we just aren’t aware of it. But being more aware of schemes can help you use them intentionally—and to diversify your writing.

Spoiler alert: If you’ve not yet watched all of Silicon Valley, read the examples below at your own risk. Also, go watch all of Silicon Valley.

Asyndeton is easily my favorite scheme—or at least the one I fall back on most often. It is the deliberate omission of conjunctions between a series of related clauses. (Check out the first sentence of this blog post!) What I like about asyndeton is how it is no-nonsense. It eliminates unnecessary words, making the series more streamlined, and it affirms that the list is incomplete without having to use the clunky “etc.”

“I thought you’d feel right at home in a marketplace—haggling, selling your monkey paws, looking for Indiana Jones in a wicker basket.” – Gilfoyle

“I put that in the signature, and then in the body I’ll write fun stuff like, ‘I’m at the opening of a secret restaurant,’ or, ‘I’m watching Jaws at the pool of an old hotel.’ You know, keep it fun, vague, mysterious.” – Dinesh

Polysendeton is related to asyndeton, but it is the deliberate use of many conjunctions rather than the omission of them. I find this scheme an easy way to switch up the traditional format of a sentence. Using many conjunctions (most frequently I see polysendeton with “and,” but other conjunctions work too) can offer a nice respite from more traditional construction, and it often eliminates the need for commas. It also lends a sense of length to a list and can be used when you want to repeat or emphasize something.

“I’ll admit I’m sleep challenged. I just spent four days trapped in a steel box out in an oil rig full of robot forklifts. But now I’m back, and I am recovering, and I am focused, and we’re going to pivot.” – Jared

“The board seat. I feel regret and glee that you would choose to honor me and terror at not living up to your expectations and compassion for Erlich’s loss. Oh, Donald, you’ve come undone!” – Jared

Alliteration is one most of us are familiar with, but I think it’s undervalued. It is the repetition of initial or medial consonants in two or more adjacent words. I myself am a culprit of undervaluing alliteration—I used to think it was hokey. While I admit it must be used sparingly, it can really have a nice effect if done correctly, adding emphasis and even sometimes elegance.

“If you worked half as hard on the platform as you do trying to ogle strange Slavic women, maybe our shares would finally be worth something.” – Gilfoyle

“Call Coleman Blair. Tell them that Santa Claus is coming early this year, and he’s bringing a big bag of Pied Piper.” – Bachman

Anaphora is the repetition of the same word or group of words at the beginning of successive clauses. Repetition can be a highly effective tool for a number of reasons, including driving home a point and providing emphasis. Plus, I just like the way it sounds. Again, this one needs to be used sparingly or else it becomes tired.

Failure is growth. Failure is learning. But sometimes failure is just failure.” – Gavin Belson

Dinesh: That’s exactly right. If we do anything differently, Barker’s going to be onto us. We have to keep complaining about Barker. We have to keep b****ing about the box.
Gilfoyle: We have to keep making fun of your gold chain. We have to. We don’t have any other choice, Dinesh.

Schemes are great, and these are just a few of the many useful ones out there. If you’re looking for easy ways to spruce up your writing and vary your construction, these schemes are a good place to start.

I’ll leave you with another photo from bowling night of our very own Bachman and Gilfoyle.


Annie Mullowney

As a senior editor, Annie focuses primarily on developmental editing and drafting, helping clients sharpen their stories and tell them in a compelling way.

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