Hello SErs! Harmony here 🙂 While today’s topic might, at first glance, seem basic and obvious, it has more to it than what shows on the surface.
For certain, when I wrote my first book, I didn’t think about paragraph structure or use at all. I just wrote. And then my learning curve began. In earnest.
What is the purpose of a paragraph?
Stephen King ‘… would argue that the paragraph, not the sentence, is the basic unit of writing–the place where coherence begins and words stand a chance of becoming more than mere words.’
From ‘On Writing’ by Stephen King
- Some paragraphs exist simply to denote a change of speaker in dialogue.
- While others exist to introduce a scene, a character, or an issue.
- A paragraph (by its length or brevity) can be used to slow a scene’s pace or speed it up.
- Lots of white space, created with short paragraphs is easier to read than a page without any breaks at all. (That doesn’t mean you can’t ever write a loooonng paragraph: just take care not to over use it.)
- The first line of a paragraph should set up the topic.
- The sentences that follow the first should explain or amplify said topic.
- In fiction, the beat of a paragraph is all important.
In modern fiction, we are actively encouraged to use informal language and even use the once outlawed contractions … yes, even outside of dialogue. This is especially true of the beats around dialogue and characterisation. I mention this here because, of course, each sentence is what makes a paragraph. If we worry too much about always being grammatically correct, our writing is likely to read as stilted and stale. As Stephen King tells us in his book On Writing, ‘Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes.’
Isn’t that such great imagery?
Despite what I’ve just said about the ins and outs of paragraphs, it’s best when writing your first draft to simply sit and write. You can tweak as necessary later in revision. This is because of that beat I mentioned earlier. The more you write (and read), the more you’ll find your paragraphs forming naturally. These days, I don’t have to think too much about them. If you keep stopping and fiddling with what you’ve just written, you’ll break your natural flow. And still, it’s good to be aware of what paragraphs are for and how to use them.
There are no rules on paragraph length. At all. I’ve seen (and used) one-word paragraphs, or three, or over a hundred. I’ve read books with pages to a paragraph.
A note on rules in general: In my book on self-editing, Polish Your Prose, I advise … that the author knows the rule and chooses to go around it, rather than blindly breaking it.
I would say the same of all rules, including the one about split infinitives that I just broke, lol.
That’s it from me for today. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. Have a lovely day!
© 2019, Harmony Kent – All Rights Reserved