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For example, is the flow disrupted or does it sound weird if only one of the items has an adjective?

My understanding of zoology was poor, but I knew animals would do everything to survive; birds would use their wings to fly away from snakes, buffaloes their powerful legs to escape from lions, and so on.

  • Well, you only have two examples in that sentence, so not really. I think you'd need three before setting up a pattern, then when you mess with the symmetry of one, it throws off the flow. – Nicole May 5 '15 at 16:40
  • That's imteresting, @Nicole, maybe you can come up with an example for that and post an answer? – user5645 May 5 '15 at 16:59
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Symmetry is not important, but rhythm is.

Considering rhythm I would change your example to:

My understanding of zoology was poor, but I knew animals would do anything to survive: birds would use their wings to fly from snakes, buffaloes their legs to run from lions.

I alwasy read my texts aloud. They must have rhythm like a poem. Try it with your example and mine and you'll hear why I made the changes I made.

Besides reading more rhythmical, your text gets more focussed and intense from the deletions. That the legs are powerful is not important for the argument you make, so deleting that actually makes it more concise. "Run" is more forceful than "escape". "Fly" (= flee) is more visceral than (leisurely) "fly away". "And so on" feels vague and confused, while giving two examples gives your narrator a more decisive and clearheaded character.

(Also, maybe, "do anything", instead of "everything"?)

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It depends how different they are. "Wings" versus "powerful legs"? Having an adjective in one but not the other doesn't break the pattern for me.

Consider this example: "I knew animals would do everything to survive; birds would use their wings to fly away from snakes, buffaloes their powerful legs to escape from lions; and the ability to change their skin color is very useful to chameleons."

Here the third entry I've added doesn't match the pattern of the first two at all: I've put the "escape mechanism" first and the name of the creature second and I haven't followed the pattern of naming the predator they are escaping.

More jarring still is when a writer completely shifts gears. Like, "I knew animals would do everything to survive; birds would use their wings to fly away from snakes, buffaloes their powerful legs to escape from lions; and fish have gills to breathe underwater." All three things fit under the category of "things that help a creature to survive", but clearly the third is a very different nature from the first two.

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