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  1. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    Modern paragraph structure

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by doggiedude, Mar 14, 2016.

    First, I need to make a confession. (Hands tremble) ..... I haven't read more than three novels in the past decade. (Ouch ... that hurts.) For about the past eight years I've developed a taste for audio books. This was mostly due to me getting involved with professional poker. Twelve hour sessions playing poker becomes extremely dull and boredom can be an easy killer in the game.
    So while I've listened to hundreds of audio books actually looking at words on a page has become more of a rarity in my fiction experience. I have noticed on this site and many others that many people structure their sentences and paragraphs differently than I remember. I find paragraphs with a single sentence. Dialogue where each line is separated out with no reference to who the speaker is and some other odd variations. I did look at a paper copy of Game of Thrones and found the style more to what I'm used to seeing. I'm wondering if there is some new standard that applies to online fiction or maybe e-books?? Am I just seeing lots of bad formatting or is there a new world since I graduated college a couple decades ago?
     
  2. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    A paragraph should contain as many sentences as it needs, no more. It should contain only one idea. Nothing new here.

    If you can encapsulate the idea of the paragraph in one sentence, it's probably either a very simple idea, or a very complicated sentence - which could probably do with being split into two or more to improve clarity.

    Dialogue should be separated into a separate paragraph every time there is a new speaker. The dialogue itself can start or end, or start and end, the paragraph; it should never be between two sections of narrative.

    Sometimes it's OK to omit a reference to who said something, as long as it's obvious enough who said it. Sometimes it's OK/better to omit a "he said" tag and just include an action beat.

    "When are you bringing the bouquets around, Dave?" said Mary.
    "Next Friday."
    "And will you be bringing that floozie with you?" Mary pursed her lips in disapproval. "I suppose you will."


    You could argue that Mary pursing her lips in disapproval doesn't prove that she was the one talking about the floozie, but that's the point about a separate paragraph for each speaker...if Mary is mentioned in the middle of some dialogue, Mary is the one speaking. If she's not, that's the author's mistake.
     
  3. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    Let me put in this example

    _____Her secretary knocked on the edge of her doorway. She looked at the emaciated man. “Yes Rishi?” He said “It’s time to get going.” Chandraleksha hadn’t noticed the time and checked to see that it was 1pm. They had a 2pm meeting at one of the manufacturing plants that was using the new NIC system. NIC was insanely over priced but the long term savings in labor costs made a better choice in some plants. The Argentina facilities were asking for NIC and she needed to stand around a room and look imposing while some of her department heads evaluated the system.

    VS
    _____Her secretary knocked on the edge of her doorway. She looked at the emaciated man.
    “Yes Rishi?”
    He said “It’s time to get going.”
    _____Chandraleksha hadn’t noticed the time and checked to see that it was 1pm. They had a 2pm meeting at one of the manufacturing plants that was using the new NIC system in several areas. NIC was insanely over priced but the long term savings in labor costs made a better choice in some facilities. Some of the Argentina facilities were asking for NIC and she needed to stand around a room and look imposing while some of her department heads evaluated the system.

    To my eyes that second example just looks silly. I have a paragraph that's only one sentence then two lines of dialogue before continuing on with what is essentially part of the original paragraph. (I put the _____ to force a normal paragraph indentation)
     
  4. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    But the second example is the standard; the first is not. Are there examples in published lit of page structure like the first example? Of course. All things exist and there is nothing new under the sun, but more than one person's dialogue in the same paragraph does not represent the vast majority of what one finds between the covers of published books. The fact that a paragraph may consist of only a single sentence is not a dynamic that renders it invalid or even uncommon.
     
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  5. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Mmm. Not really sure what you were reading. As the style of short paragraphs & one sentence paragraphs have been around since the pulps and have been steadily pushing their way into other genres for years. Mainly because visually it makes for an easier read. There might be a few hold outs ( really depends on the genre and the author ) but the style choice might be for more practical purposes than style.

    For instance you may not notice the 'new style' in certain sci-fi because of bigger paragraphs. The style is there it's just spread out more. Or the writer choses to keep the dialogue within the exposition knowing it might, in the long run, save him a page and in a 700 page epic that technique comes in handy.
     
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  6. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    But it's not the original paragraph, because you've changed actors and speakers. A new actor or a new speaker calls for a new paragraph.

    Now, I realize that that's a circular answer to your question--I'm effectively saying that your second example is correct because it's correct. So that leads to the question: What do you think is the appropriate way to organize paragraphs? You seem to be seeking the use of nonstandard rules.

    You also seem to be assuming that the rules in use in your second example are new, and they're not. New actors, new speakers, have pretty much always meant new paragraphs. It may be that modern writing style has less action in those paragraphs, so that the average paragraph is shorter. But the general rule for when to break to a new paragraph hasn't fundamentally changed.
     
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  7. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    Maybe the bulk of my memory is from college science textbooks. They don't have much in the way of dialogue. I don't think I've written anything in the form of fiction since high school and even then it wouldn't have been much. I can just envision my mother laughing her ass off about me trying to do this. She spent many a school night trying to get proper sentence structure into me.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Those paragraphs are completely proper. If she reads fiction, I don't think she'll laugh.

    Edited to add: proper in terms of the paragraph breaks, that is. There are som other issues.
     
    Last edited: Mar 14, 2016
  9. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, your second example is correct, although it looks weird with the long underline replacing a paragraph indent. And then you didn't indent the two lines of dialogue, for some reason.

    The forum has a formatting problem (unintentional) with indents, so the excerpt would probably look more like my quote, below. We usually separate paragraphs with a blank line when we're posting stuff here.

    However, I'm not sure who the 'she' is referring to in the second sentence. Is this the secretary doing the knocking, or Chandraleksha—or are they the same person? Who is actually looking at the emaciated man? There are a few too many pronouns for the context to be clear, at least from this single example.


     
  10. KokoN
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    KokoN Active Member

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    As everyone else has said, it's very common and considered grammatically correct to start a new paragraph every time a new person is speaking. Also, there should be a comma after "said" in this sentence:

    This should read:

    A textbook would definitely look different because textbooks typically contain little to no dialogue, as you said.
     
  11. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    I feel like I should be taking a review course on creative writing. Or just pay someone to do some editing for me :bigtongue:
    I realize the whole indentation thing is an issue with this chat software but should each line of dialogue also be indented as it's own paragraph?
    What about little tags between dialogue?
    The section I posted didn't have much so how would this get broken up?

    Her father knocked on the door and said “Enedia?” She rolled her eyes and said “Yes papa I’m getting ready for school.” There was a short pause before she heard him reply “Are you feeling any better today.” Feeling any better. No she wasn’t fucking feeling any better. Someone blew up her mother! Or something. They still weren’t sure if the shuttle had been bombed or if it was some sort of failure. That didn’t matter, her mother was gone. Her father again said “Enedia?” She snapped out “I’m fine, I’ll be out in a minute!” She heard “Well…. Okay. Try not to use up all our gravity allotment for the day.”
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    In the below I'm doing what I call "internet paragraphs"--the paragraphs are not indented, and there's a blank line between each one. In a book, the blank line would not be there, and the paragraphs would be indented. I also added the commas for the dialogue tags.

    Her father knocked on the door and said, “Enedia?”

    She rolled her eyes and said, “Yes papa I’m getting ready for school.”

    There was a short pause before she heard him reply, “Are you feeling any better today.”

    Feeling any better. No she wasn’t fucking feeling any better. Someone blew up her mother! Or something. They still weren’t sure if the shuttle had been bombed or if it was some sort of failure. That didn’t matter, her mother was gone.

    Her father again said, “Enedia?”

    She snapped out, “I’m fine, I’ll be out in a minute!”

    She heard, “Well…. Okay. Try not to use up all our gravity allotment for the day.”
     
  13. doggiedude
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    doggiedude Contributing Member

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    I think I'm getting a hang of this. How about this situation

    _____Jack said, “The security officer told me they have a hovertank on the roof with a stunner field, they are waiting on permission to knock the whole crowd out.” William thought about who he could call to use his influence to get the process over with. He didn’t know anyone in the security command structure but he did know the Mayor of New DC.

    or
    _____Jack said, “The security officer told me they have a hovertank on the roof with a stunner field, they are waiting on permission to knock the whole crowd out.”
    _____William thought about who he could call to use his influence to get the process over with. He didn’t know anyone in the security command structure but he did know the Mayor of New DC.

    In the second example, William isn't saying anything but I'm getting the idea that maybe it should still start a new paragraph since the voice came from one character and the thoughts came from another.
     
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  14. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Another problem with this is that Her secretary and She both appear in the first paragraph, so it's unclear who spoke to Rishi. You really could do with another one-sentence paragraph, because my first impression was that She was the secretary, who looked at an emaciated man, a third character.
     
  15. KokoN
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    KokoN Active Member

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    Lol no worries! If you ever need anything edited for grammar and stuff like that, I'd be happy to take a look at it if I have some free time. I'm pretty good at catching those mistakes. (I won't comment on the paragraph you posted because someone already reformatted it for you.)

    Yep! That is exactly right. New thought = new paragraph. You got this! :)
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yep!
     

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