As writers, one would assume we’d master the art of great paragraphs (you know, the things that bind together to form a book) long before we conquer any other aspect of what makes great writing.
Sadly though, this is not the case.
A lot of writers are still getting their paragraphs horribly wrong. This means they’re either too short and lack substance, or they’re miles too long and bombard the reader with a thousand things at one. Balance is the most crucial thing when it comes to the length of your paragraphs, and mastering said balance is what we’re going to look at today.
Whether you’re just starting out or if you’ve been writing for twenty years – this article will come in very handy. That’s because you can never achieve true perfection in this war of words and story-craft, so every little tip and insight you gain could make a huge difference.
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What Is The Purpose Of A Paragraph
Simplicity is the king of all knowledge, and that is why we’re going to start things simply. When reading through self-published or unpublished works, one of the things you tend to notice is that a lot of writers struggle with the concept of what a paragraph actually is. Of course, we all know what a paragraph is. But what people seem to lack knowledge in is what a paragraph is there to do.
In their most basic form, paragraphs are there to move the story forward. That’s it, that’s their purpose. They can come in all shapes and sizes, and can be laced with a variety of differing content, but if they don’t move the story forward in a way that either shows the reader more of the plot, or adds depth to a character, they don’t need to be there.
No reader anywhere in the world wants to read five fifteen-line paragraphs about how blue the sea is or how shiny your main character’s hair looks beneath the light of the morning sun. Sure, show the reader those things, but don’t drag them out into a five-hundred-word snooze-fest.
Use your paragraphs to move the plot forward.
Start them with a sentence that builds on the previous paragraph in some way, maybe a character action or a relevant description, and end them with a sentence that allows you to continue this method in the following paragraph. The meat of the paragraph falls between, and that’s where your long descriptions (if you must include them) should lie.
The first and last sentences are the most important part of your paragraphs, because they’re what mean the difference between smoothly flowing transitions, and an absolute written car crash.
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Paragraphs And Pacing
As you already know, pacing is a crucial part of writing great fiction, and can easily mean the difference between a great book and a, well, not-so-great book. Content and writing quality aside, if a book is well-paced it is still readable, and that’s because the reader can follow the plot closely with minimal effort. There’s nothing worse than straining to keep up, and a well-paced narrative eliminates that strain.
But how do paragraphs come into this?
Well, the answer is simple: it’s because the length of your paragraphs is a great way to dictate the pace at which your narrative unfolds. Short, snappy-sentenced paragraphs that focus on character actions and speech – the plot will move fast. Long, heavy-sentenced paragraphs that focus more on the internals of a characters mind and descriptions of their surroundings – the plot will move slower.
It’s finding the balance that matters most, and that’s because it’s the hardest thing to do.
The genre you write in has a lot to do with how you should pace your plot, which in turn affects how long you should make your paragraphs. For example, genres like Sci-Fi and Fantasy tend to focus more on longer paragraphs that feed the reader a lot of detail and description. Whereas, genres such as Crime Fiction and Thriller tend to opt for shorter paragraphs that move through the plot at a faster rate.
Of course, this isn’t set in stone, and any genre can contain a great mixture of short and long paragraphs. It largely depends on what part of the plot you’re writing.
If you’re at the end of a book, and want the pacing to be fast and snappy, you’d usually opt for shorter paragraphs. Whereas, if you’re somewhere in the middle, you could mix it up with long and short paragraphs to really paint a detailed picture.
When deciding on the length of yours, really think about the genre you write in, and what stage of the plot you’re up to. Those are two things to pay attention to, and will help guide you toward great pacing through perfecting the length of your paragraphs.
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Implement And Improve
So, now that you find yourself with a greater understanding of how paragraphs should function, and how their length should vary based on particular factors, you can go off and improve your manuscript through the simple act of refining your paragraphs.
Don’t be sloppy in your edits; be ruthless. If you find a lot of paragraphs that contain a load of worthless spiel that doesn’t move the plot forward – cut them. Alternatively, if you find paragraphs that are lazy, that skip out important details and move too fast – flesh them out.
It’s all about understanding your manuscript, both in terms of genre and the pace at which you want the chapters to move. Master these two things, and know how to mould your paragraphs in a way that compliments your intentions, and you’re well on your way to a winning manuscript.
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