The first instantly recognizable side character from the original Star Wars trilogy was Yoda.
Why did everyone immediately fasten upon him? Two reasons: his Zen-like pronouncements and his inverted statements.
Classic Yoda: “This one a long time have I watched” & “Always in motion is the future.”
After his charming introduction to the world, however, came all of the take-offs: his inversions created easy mimicry. While some of his pronouncements sounded like truth, many became little more than gimmick.
The prior Writers’ Ink blog looked at methods of repetition. Inversion can be just as clever as anaphora or polysyndeton.
The WHAT & HOW & WHY of Inversion
Inversion = to change the normal order of words. The fancy Greek term for it is “anastrophe”.
“Yet I know how the heather looks” vs. “Yet know I how the heather looks.”
The second version is Emily Dickinson’s third line in “I Never Saw a Moor”.
As with any structural device, like polysyndeton, anastrophe (inversion) requires the reader to consider the reason for the alteration from the norm.
Dickinson presents us with simple ideas about using the mind’s eye to travel, but with the inversion we now realize she is talking about the power of imagination in comprehending life and the afterlife. She continues: “I never spoke with God / nor visited in Heav’n / yet certain am I of the spot / as if the checks were given.”
“It doesn’t matter how the gate is narrow or how the scroll is filled with punishments.”
“It matters not how strait the gate, / how charged with punishments the scroll.”
Some of us recognize the opening of the last stanza of William Ernest Henley’s “Invictus”.
More inversion. And choosing strait for narrow and charged for filled with, the classic flipping to synonyms.
Shifting ideas & words around will change our view of life and the afterlife, for as Henley reminds us, we are “the captain of [our] soul”. We are also the captain of our writing.
Of the Greek rhetorical devices, my personal fave is the chiasmus, in which words are repeated in reverse order. That mirror effect leads to truth.
Shakespeare is our master. From the witches in Macbeth:
“Fair is foul, foul is fair.”
Ah, how the three witches tempted Macbeth to change his perception: that which he had formally accepted
as good become evil to him, and that which was evil (murder) became good.
Chi is the Greek letter that looks like X. The chiasmus is set up on that X pattern when you pair up the lines one above the other.
> “Plan your work for today and every day, then work your plan.” ~ Norman Vincent Peale (sometimes accredited to Margaret Thatcher)
> Never let a fool kiss you or kiss a fool. ~ modern proverb
> “Do I love you because you are beautiful? Or are you beautiful because I love you? ~ Oscar Hammerstein, Cinderella (preferred over the Disney version)
And this wonderful bit of dialogue from Emma Thompson’s Nanny McPhee:
[Nanny] “When you need me but don’t want me, I must stay. When you want me but don’t need me, I must go.”
[Boy] “We will never want you!”
[Nanny] “Then I must stay.”
We can take inversion too far, and then like Yoda we’ll sound. That gimmick from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back gave us an immediately identifiable character. By now, however, the anastrophe has become cliché, and clichés must we avoid.
Find creative ways to use anastrophe, as Emily Dickinson did, and wonderful ways to use the chiasmus, as Shakespeare and Hammerstein and Thompson did. Our readers will be happily surprised and thankful.
Our question :: can inversions help us or hinder us?