1. john11
    Offline

    john11 Member

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2013
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    2

    Paragraph structure

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by john11, Sep 30, 2013.

    Hi And thanks for reading this post.

    I was taught at school about paragraph structure, in that the first sentence should be the topic sentence which gives a brief overview of the paragraph itself, then the remaining sentences support and expand on the topic sentence.

    But why do people not use this.

    I went through some of my older books, Tarzan - by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and found he uses this format of paragraphing, but newer books like Harry Potter By jk rowling totally ignores this.

    1. Is this form of paragraphing wrong nowadays, is it old fashioned.

    2. What format do you use and why?

    3. I am trying to write a fantasy genre piece of work, what style of paragraphing should i use.

    Many thanks in advance. John.
     
  2. ChickenFreak
    Offline

    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2010
    Messages:
    8,994
    Likes Received:
    5,503
    That paragraph structure is primarily for formal, academic writing, and I think usually for fairly short pieces. It's less relevant as the writing gets longer, even less relevant as the writing gets less formal, and even less relevant for fiction writing.

    That's not to say that you discard all of the principles that guide that structure. You'll still tend to start a new paragraph when you change the subject, for example. But you're less likey to worry about paragraph structure than to worry about when to insert a paragraph break, which is a related but not identical concern.
     
    Andrae Smith likes this.
  3. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering
    Exactly! :D Love the mention of paragraph breaks, too.

    And to @john11 A quick google search would help solve your problem, really. Still here's a web page that I would say might give you a new way to think about it:
    http://theeditorsblog.net/2011/03/15/writing-basics-the-paragraph/
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2013
  4. john11
    Offline

    john11 Member

    Joined:
    Jun 16, 2013
    Messages:
    23
    Likes Received:
    2
    Hi. Thanks for the replies.

    Does this work:

    The crowd of spectators were howling, tensing fists, ready for the bloody schoolyard fight. John walked straight in and landed a hard right cross to the jaw, staggering the much larger Dreadrick Bonecrusher and the students screamed their approval, then a left sunk deep into Dreadrick's stomach.

    This is just something i knocked up on the spur of the moment, but it shows my paragraph construction technique. I start with the first sentence giving an idea of what the remainder of the paragraph is about, then the remaining sentences expand on the first sentence.

    I know you said this is really for academic and essay writing, but do you think it could work well for fiction.

    I would not put in anything like: teachers stepped in and stopped the fight, or parents screeched to a halt and came out of their cars, because teachers or parents is not mentioned in the first sentence (topic sentence)
    Do you think this is ok.

    Many thanks. John.
     
  5. jannert
    Offline

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Mar 7, 2013
    Messages:
    7,819
    Likes Received:
    7,344
    Location:
    Scotland
    Hi John!

    Here's my two cents on this issue.

    I would say forget nearly ALL of what you've taken on board regarding the structure of formal writing when you embark on creative writing. (I'm saying this as a former English teacher, by the way.) While it's important to learn expository writing to write coherent papers while you're at school, knowing the form too well can handicap your writing later on. Been there, done that.

    I learned a very important paragraphing lesson when I married my husband, who is a journalist by profession. He said that dense paragraphs make tough reading, and that journalists—especially newspaper journalists—break up paragraphs almost sentence by sentence. It increases readability, which I presume is what you're after as a storyteller.

    Just to take your example above, about the schoolyard fight. You've introduced the topic—the fight—in the first sentence, but if John and Dreadrick carry on exchanging punches, John goes down, Dreadrick pulls all his buttons off, then John gets up and knocks Dreadrick down and pulls all HIS buttons off, then John's girlfriend gets into the act and jumps on Dreadrick and twists his nose and pulls his ears, and then Dreadrick... you get the point. Would you keep all this in the same paragraph, headed 'playground fight?'

    I assume not. You'd break it up. A lot.

    I'd say you can have many many subtopics, each of which is introduced in a new paragraph. It's an organic thing though. Don't go looking for rules. Just write it, see how it looks on the page. Maybe get somebody else to read it and tell you what they think. If they say 'your paragraphs are too long,' then break them up (if you think that's valid.) If they say you've chopped it up too much, then maybe look to combine a few. I'd say don't worry about it too much, actually. It's a very easy thing to fix. It all comes with practice.

    One thing I would certainly stick to, though, has to do with paragraphing dialogue.

    The convention is to create a new paragraph every time you change speakers, but DON'T paragraph in the middle of a single speaker's portion of dialogue. If Fred says something, moves to the mirror to clean his whiskers, then says something else, this should all be kept in the same paragraph.

    The reader's eye is trained to see each paragraph change as heralding a new speaker. If you mess with this you can create total confusion. Try never to make your reader backtrack to figure out who is saying what. Speech tags help, of course, but so does paragraphing.
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2013
    Andrae Smith likes this.
  6. Andrae Smith
    Offline

    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2012
    Messages:
    2,506
    Likes Received:
    1,404
    Location:
    Wandering
    Well you should consider, even when writing fiction, that the sentences in one paragraph should expand on something of the first sentence or two. Every paragraph encapsulates its own theme. If you haven't already, check out the link.

    As for your example, there are some mechanical errors that I would call a syntax issues before paragraph issues. Although, they are related, especially in your example. Those are what I'd be most worried about. Once you master sentence structure and sentence variation, you can introduce info in many ways and paragraph structure becomes less important. I couldn't tell who the focus of the paragraph was right away, then I realized your POV is a fly on the wall and the focus is the fight. I felt it was aiming to be character-focuses so I rewrote it in that possibility. But there are many interpretations and ways to write things.

    One way to rewrite this is as shown (assuming the focus was on the crowd, then John):
    I devoted two separate paragraphs to the two separate perspectives. You didn't identify a focus so I felt it would be better handled separately. There are other ways to do it, you could sneak a sentence about one or the other into a paragraph devoted to one of them. You could do a number of things really, but you have to keep the perspectives clear. Even as a fly on the wall.

    ****I'd say don't worry too much about it, or anything I've said so far in this post. Just write seriously, and when you're able to post in the workshops, you'll get the help you need. When it comes to Fiction, it's more about the feel and flow of a paragraph. If something doesn't work, the context will help to place it better.****
     
  7. mammamaia
    Offline

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Joined:
    Nov 21, 2006
    Messages:
    19,316
    Likes Received:
    1,014
    Location:
    Coquille, Oregon
    so would i!

    using any kind of formula in writing fiction is not the way to approach crafting a reader-friendly compelling story... it will more likely result in a stilted, rigidly structured boring mess that will lose your readers before they get to the third page...
     
  8. Steve Day
    Offline

    Steve Day Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 6, 2013
    Messages:
    107
    Likes Received:
    8
    Location:
    PA
    You were also taught in school to share, raise your hand, and don't interrupt.
    In fiction there are no rules.
    Read some Allen Ginsburg or e.e. cummings poetry, and try some James Joyce, or Joyce Cary, for fiction.
    Of course, if you want to get published and have a wide readership, first you have to get past the agents guarding the gate. There you have to play nice and ask permission to speak.
     

Share This Page