Last Thursday Technicalities, I discussed the importance of sentence structure for your writing. This week, we’re going to take a look at paragraphing, which can be used in similar ways but also has a few unique aspects of its own that sentence structures don’t have.
Let’s take a look!
Paragraphing for Pacing
Much how sentence structure can either slow down or speed up your writing, paragraphing also affects pacing. Long paragraphs tend to slow things down just like long sentences do, while short ones speed things up.
In formal and academic writing, most of us were taught that paragraphs had to be at least three to four sentences long in order to be a paragraph. For fiction writing, throw that notion out the window.
Paragraphs can be one sentence.
But they can also be much more than the eight-sentence maximum advised for academic writing. It all depends on what you need for your writing. For pacing and for a few other reasons I’ll get to in a moment, you may wish to have a very short paragraph or a very long one. These are choices that depend solely upon what you wish to accomplish and how.
Paragraphing for Emphasis
This one’s relatively straightforward. If you have something that really needs to jump off the page at the reader, putting it into its own paragraph is often a great way to achieve this. It makes the information stand out and signals to the reader that the information is important, so they should pay attention to it. Especially if you do it after or between long paragraphs. The eye is just naturally drawn to it.
Another important aspect of paragraphing is knowing where to put information in a paragraph. If it’s important, stick it at the beginning or the end. Readers, even in fiction, tend to skip what’s in the middle of a paragraph or skim it quickly, especially if the paragraph is long. So book-end the not-so-important information with what you really want the reader to remember. (This goes for ending and beginning chapters too. Start and end with things that should be memorable and that grab the attention of the reader.)
Paragraphing with Dialogue
I’ll talk more about this in an upcoming post about dialogue do’s and don’ts, but I’d be remiss if I talked about paragraphing without at least mentioning dialogue.
The important takeaway with paragraphing and dialogue is pretty straightforward. You start a new paragraph whenever someone new starts talking, and you start a new paragraph if the actions you’ve written in don’t go with the previous speaker’s dialogue. For example…
“Hey, Susan, d’you think you could pass me the ketchup?” Susan eyed her little brother. “You want ketchup on that?” Peter crossed his arms. “What if I do?”
“Hey, Susan, d’you think you could pass me the ketchup?”
Susan eyed her little brother. “You want ketchup on that?”
Peter crossed his arms. “What if I do?”
Now, most people who have learned anything about writing know not to do the things I did in the first one. But many times, I’ll run across beginners who just struggle with paragraphing and formatting dialogue. Once you know the rules, it’s simple, I promise.
But most of the time, writers starting out on their own with no guidance or help, writers who just want to write and don’t know where to start, don’t know how to handle dialogue. That’s fine, and the goal here is to help everyone who struggles with it out.
Basically, stick with the two rules of paragraphing for dialogue, and you should be fine on that front. Start new paragraphs any time someone new starts talking and any time an action doesn’t belong to the owner of the dialogue.
That’s it for this Thursday Technicalities, everyone! I hope it’s provided some useful tips for those who hadn’t learned this information yet and a good refresher for those who had.
What are some of the ways you use paragraphing for emphasis in your writing? Share them in the comments below! If you have any questions, feel free to leave those in the comments too. Until next time, everyone.