Paragraphing Just for Fun

When do you cut to a new paragraph in a story?

 

A few writers throw chunks of information together in longer paragraphs. Others use shorter paragraphs. Some of this is feel and style, and you have to go with your voice, but regardless, the main goal is to give your reader a lot of white space on the page.

 

More on that when we get to letter W for white space.

 

Present the words in a neat, organized way and leave plenty of space on the page so the reader will perceive your story as easy to read. That way, the reader will want to delve into to your imaginary world without hesitation. Too much clutter overwhelms in life and on the page.

 

Reasons to begin a new paragraph:

 

1.      New speaker

Each new speaker gets his/her own paragraph.

Example:

“What are you thinking about?” Jon slid a step closer.

“About the movie.” Emily blushed and took a step back.

This makes it very clear who’s talking. Notice the action beats—what the person did with their body instead of saying Jon said or Emily said. If you give an action, you can leave off the word said.

 

2.      New Person/New Subject

Even if you don’t have a running back and forth dialogue and you switch people, switch paragraphs.

 

“What are you thinking about?” Jon slid a step closer. (Jon speaking)

Emily blushed and took a step back. (Emily reacting)

 

New subject:

“What are you thinking about?” Jon slid a step closer.

A giant meteor crashed in front of Emily. Shards of fire littered the ground.

She jumped back and screamed.

 

3.      Internal Thought

“What are you thinking about?” Jon slid closer.

Maybe the fact that you stole my dog. Emily shuddered and took a step back.

Emily doesn’t actually answer him out loud. She thinks her response (internal thought) and reacts outwardly.

 

 

4.      Stand Alone Paragraph

When something really important happens in your story that you want to stand out, put it all by itself.

 

“What are you thinking about?” Jon slid closer.

Maybe that you stole my dog. Emily shuddered and took a step back. What a jerk. How would she get her dog back?

 

A giant meteor crashed in front of Emily.

She jumped back and screamed.

The meteor was unexpected and took the story in a new direction that the reader hadn’t been expecting.

 

2 Comments

  1. Great advice on white space, Lori.

    Cadence, rhythm and impact trump the old rules in commercial fiction these days.

    Don’t forget back-loading. Have a killer word at the end of a sentence? End your paragraph there if you can. And I LOVE the SAPs. Short and Powerful sentence frags masquerading as a stand alone paragraph.

    Great topic.

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