1. Forgetmenot77
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    Forgetmenot77 Senior Member

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    How long should ..

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Forgetmenot77, Mar 7, 2009.

    my paragraphs be??? I am revamping the story and adding but how long should I make my paragraphs..should they start at every new subject? or does it matter.
     
  2. Agreen
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    Agreen Faceless Man Contributor

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    I typically break my paragraphs whenever the subject matter or idea being expressed has advanced beyond the topic introduced in the first sentence- but I'll break that rule for stylistic reasons, whether to make quick and choppy paragraphs in an action sequence or rarely extend a paragraph for a more detailed description.
     
  3. Aeroflot
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    Aeroflot Senior Member

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    I believe the basic guideline for paragraphs is to break whenever the subject changes. For instance:


    Roberta and I walked to the store together. She sprayed on a perfume that smelled like *insert cliche here* and several times she caught me with my nose smelling the back of her neck. For a moment I was embarrassed, but then I explained how the scent grabbed my poor nose and dragged it in, against my will even.


    Yesterday I couldn't help but think Roberta had a few issues he had to address before he spoke to me again, but today I've come to see that her problems are mine as well. Maybe I shouldn't be so quick to judge. She really is a kind-hearted person.


    In the first paragraph they're walking to the store. That's one subject. The second paragraph talks about some issues the two had with each other. It's not that the subject has completely changed--they're still in the process of walking to the store--but the focus has evolved, developed. That's the best way I can explain it.

    Make your paragraphs as long as you want, but break them only if you're 100% sure there needs to be a break. Generally, I believe people want shorter paragraphs, especially as the story is beginning. Longer ones can come later after the person is effectively sucked into the story and can no longer be a critic.
     
  4. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A paragraph is a group of related sentences. How closely related they need to be depends a lot on the type of writing and the specific content, though.

    In essays and arrticles, a paragraph usually expands on the point made in the first sentence of the paragraph, so it's generally obvious where to break.

    In dialogue, each speaker's dialogue fragment is separated from that of any other speaker. If a single speaker switches subjects within the same "turn", tat will often merit a paragraph break as well.

    If a scene transition takes place, or the point of view shifts, or time passes between actions, you should start a new paragraph. Any time actions need to be separated, a paragraph break is appropriate.

    Mostly, though, these are guidelines. There will always be grey areas, and there will always be exceptions. Sometimes you'll see too many very short paragraphs, making te flow seem choppy, so you look for paragraphs that can be merged to smooth the flow. Other times, you may be droning on, risking putting the reader into a coma, so you introduce interruptions. But it may require more than adding and removing paragraph breaks - the writing itself mey need changes to fit the new structure.

    Like so many other aspects of writing, it is somewhat of a balancing act.
     
  5. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    Paragraphs should be as long (or as short) as they need to be. Simple as that. Some go on for half a page, some are just one sentence (or word) long. IMO it's best to vary things--don't be afraid to have paragraphs of all different lengths because that's how most people do it. I, personally, dislike if a story is a bunch of short paragraphs (seems kind of childish and simple then) or a bunch of really long paragraphs (then it gets longwinded and hard to follow). Mix things up.

    Regarding where to start new paragraphs, you should look into some books on basic grammar and sentence/paragraph construction, and/or read other writers to see how it's done, as well as just practicing a lot. It's something you have to learn from experience. People could spout grammar rules at me all day and it all means nothing if I don't intuitively know, from past writing, how it's done.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto all that... there is no 'should' re length... some successful writers are prone to very long ones and some to excessively short ones... and most do well with a mix...

    and to learn how/where to divvy up your work will only come from constant reading of good writing...

    there really are not ironclad rules, other than separating narrative and dialog... it's a matter of style and individual choice...
     
  7. g1ng3rsnap9ed
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    g1ng3rsnap9ed Contributing Member

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    I would say to let the paragraphs begin and end on their own. I really don't think about the length of paragraphs when I'm writing. Openning a new paragraph with one idea and closing it with the same idea is the thing to do. I would try writing without this in mind, then going back, re-reading it to make sure that everything seems right. If so, then you have no need to worry! :)
     
  8. traffic101
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    traffic101 Member

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    Hi, my only suggestion, as they are great tips...is if you are writing an ebook, or for the web, not to make your paragraphs bigger than 5 sentences. Having long paragraphs turns the reader off.

    In print this doesn't seem to really matter, but this is an online web guideline.

    Otherwise, keep on writing!
     
  9. CharlieVer
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    CharlieVer New Member Contributor

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    I agree with what others have said, and can only add that sometimes paragraph length (as well as sentence length) can also help determine the pace of the story.

    For example, you might want to have longer sentences and paragraphs when describing a serene lake where two lovers meet, setting the tone and letting your reader see and smell and feel and taste the intimate lake scene, then have shorter sentences and shorter paragraph when the axe murderer shows up and begins stalking them, speeding the pace (and shortening sentences and paragraphs) as they start to run, and even faster as the murderer closes in on them until... pow!
     
  10. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    As long as they need to be; just remeber what a paragraph is!

    One paragraph in Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 is two pages long.
     
  11. lordofhats
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    lordofhats Contributing Member

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    I think that though a paragraph can be any length, you should avoid making walls of text. That's always annoying for a reader. If you can fit the whole idea in a well organized paragraph jolly good. But I think that when a paragraph starts dragging on and on, maybe you should just break it up with a new one to break the monotony. There's just something intimidating to turn the page and see no indentation whatsoever that I think should be avoided. But maybe I'm the only one who sees a page of nothing but text and fears that it will be a horrible experience XD. It's a psychological thing. It's relaxing to see text broken down into smaller bits for me.
     

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