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 Paragraphing: How to make things easy to read!

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Paragraphing: How to make things easy to read! Empty
PostSubject: Paragraphing: How to make things easy to read!   Paragraphing: How to make things easy to read! EmptyThu Jan 06 2011, 23:48

Every so often, I'll read things on the site that are just a massive block of text, one paragraph that takes up the entire screen.  Reading one of those text blocks is like reading one of those really boring textbooks for school: the words all kind of blur together, and even if what you were reading could have been interesting, it's just too painful.  This is why paragraphing is important.

1. Dialogue

The first basic rule regarding paragraphing is that only one person should speak per paragraph.  See Dialogue: The Basics for more information.

But even if you have only one person speaking in each paragraph (or maybe no one at all!), that doesn't mean your job is done.  Each fiction tells one story.  Each chapter tells part of that story.  Each paragraph tells part of the chapter.  Each sentence tells part of the paragraph.  And each word tells part of the sentence.  Its all about organizing your thoughts in a way that helps you convey your message to your reader.

2. Topical Paragraphs

Remember in school when you learned how to write essays, and the teacher would tell you that the first sentence in each paragraph should be a thesis sentence, something that tells you what the entire paragraph will be about? 

Its similar- but not exactly the same- when you write fiction.  Your entire paragraph should be about one thing -- be it your character's appearance, description of a building, or an entire battle.  You can pick any topic you want, but everything in that paragraph has to talk about the same topic.  For example:

Quote :

I snorted in amusement; this was no mere spar, but a fight to the death. He obviously thought he would be physically powerful enough that he would thrash me with a blade alone. There was no prospect of that I had defeated my mother who was five decades older than he theoretically was. More that that, elves always overpowered any humans.

The entire paragraph talked about the fact that humans cannot beat elves.  Not the battle, not what she'd be doing after the battle- just that humans cant beat elves.  On the other hand, look at this paragraph:

Quote :

Now a plan started o form around the weapon that my father had crafted himself for me. If I could get out of reach in such a way that it would be possible for me to use my longbow and hit Rhothilion with an arrow, then Lindan Marcos might just realise his danger. For only a few seconds, I darted swiftly away from the human. Stringing my longbow and aiming an arrow vigilantly, I released the arrow as Rhothilion reared. It shot towards him, embedding itself into Rhothilion's now defenceless abdomen. All of us were shocked at the roar of fuming hurt that came as a result of my aim. 'You fiend of an elf!' within seconds Gaelira had roared in my defence and gouged into his belly with her tail spikes. 'How do you have the guts to call her that, oath breaker?'

There are at least three different things going on in this paragraph: the Gaelira, Rhothilion, and the fight.  See how it makes the paragraph choppy and confusing?  Instead of jamming all these ideas together, they should each get their own separate paragraphs so that you can develop each theme properly.

3. Length

But how do you know if a paragraph is too long?  There is no fixed, maximum length for paragraphs.  I know some teachers have a 4-6 sentence rule when you write essays, but paragraphs can be as short as 1 word or as long as 2 pages.  You don't want to make a paragraph too short—its a lot better to put relate ideas together than to scatter them out into many paragraphs so your reader can't tell how they should fit together.  But you also don't want a paragraph so long that its hard to follow.

If you think a paragraph is getting kind of long-ish, see if you can break it down.  If the paragraph starts by talking about one thing and then transitions to another, maybe you can split it in half.  But if the entire thing talks about one subject, and there isn't really a clean place for you to cut it, then leave it alone.  Sometimes paragraphs are really long, and that's okay. 

Generally, if you have descriptive narrative or are telling a lot of back-story, your paragraphs will run longer than if you are just writing dialogue and less-descriptive narrative.  But there are no bright-line rules to follow.  If you're having problems with paragraphing, my best tip is to get a beta reader to tell you if the paragraphs are getting too long or complicated.

4. also, don't forget your spaces between words and sentences. Such as

Quote :

She smiled and said"Well what are we going to do now"and shook her head in despair.

should become:

Quote :

She smiled and said "Well what are we going to do now" and shook her head in despair.

Please remember your spacing!
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