1. Benska
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    Benska Member

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    Paragraphing.

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Benska, Jan 7, 2009.

    I was just wondering how people go about paragraphing. I'm sure there are rules and what-not that apply, but it seems that everyone does it differently.

    I basically just do whatever comes naturally: I think I start a new paragraph whenever there is a major change in thought, or subject etc. Or if another character starts speaking or something. I think this is a fairly common way of doing it.
    But in the last book I read, prey -- I forgot the author's name; he wrote jurrasic park -- He would sometimes have an entire conversation in one paragraph... it just struck me as odd.

    So... are there rules and what-not that apply to paragraphing? Or is it just a kind of stylistic/personal choice?

    Thanks.

    EDIT: I just relised this might belong in the SPAG section. Feel free to move it =].
     
  2. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    With creative writing, how you do your paragraphs is definitely more than a grammar issue. In general, you have theright idea about paragraphs. One topic, one paragraph. But it also depends on what you want to convey to the reader. You get a very different sense from a piece with lots of short paragraphs than one with mostly long ones or a mix of paragraph lengths. It helps express pace, and I'm sure other things that I'm not thinking of at the moment.
     
  3. AnonyMouse
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    AnonyMouse Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've always been taught that new-speaker-new-paragraph is a grammatical fact, not simply a stylistic thing. Of course it wouldn't be the first time an established author (Michael Crichton, R.I.P.) has broken the rules. I read some Crichton back in high school and don't seem to remember him doing that; maybe it's something he dabbled in just once.


    As for the general question, paragraphing is mostly stylistic. You have the right idea, as Rei said. There's really no limit on how long or short a paragraph can be, but I think your readers may get a little annoyed if you have ten-page paragraphs where the subject matter goes around the world and back again. Same goes for frag-graphs.

    Like this one. :rolleyes:
     
  4. Benska
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    Benska Member

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    Rei:
    Topic! That's the word I was looking for.
    This was helpful; you basicallly told me what I sort of already knew, but wasn't really aware of (if that makes any sense) =] thanks. I think it also depends on your audience. In general older people have longer attention spans and can handle longer paragraphs, younger people shorter. This isn't always true, of course, but I'd say mostly.

    Annoy mouse:
    Yeah, I think it was a one-off thing.

    Haha, a ten page paragraph would suck. I think the worst I've seen was a four page one, in 20,000 leagues under the sea - Jules Verne. It bored the heck out of me... but then again, so did the majority of the book :rolleyes:.
     
  5. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    There is no limit in creative writing to how long or how short a paragraph should be. In formal writing, english teachers will teach you that a paragraph is generally four sentences of longer-or at least that's why they taught me back in the 80's when I was coming through school.
     
  6. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Happy I could help.

    I think paragraphs of that length were pretty common back with 20k leagues under the see was published. At least I have seen it done that way in the books I've read from that period. I could easily have found a way to chop them up into something more approachable if I had the patience for it. I usually stop reading them after a few pages because they are so long winded and it's confusing because I'm mildly dyslexic.

    And it's definitely not just an age thing with attention span. I have very little patience for most books that are more than 300 pages anymore, but when I was a teenager I thought the longer the better.
     
  7. Benska
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    Benska Member

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    I didn't actually learn all that much about creative writing in english at highschool. My first year I had an idiot of a teacher -- and I'm not just saying that, he seriously must have had an IQ of about 70. Then they had mixed ability classes where they kept going over the basics of SPAG constantly, and other mundane things, to accomadate the slower people. And when they made classes based on ability they put me in one of the higher ones, where we had to go into the deeper things, interprating the meaning behind strange poems and what-not.
    Most of what I know about writing I picked up from reading.

    And I know It's not an age thing, that was a silly thing to say; I am totally against generalisation, 'tis a ludicrous thing.

    Rambling over =].
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A paragraph should be cohesive. That's a bit vague. but the idea is that you should be able to say what the paragraph is about in a short sentence: It's a descriptioln of the reception hall; it's the beginning of the fistfight before thye first pause; it's Melissa speaking to Nathan.

    If the paragraph contains dialogue, it should only contain the dialogue of one speaker about one thought. If the speaker starts a new topic, or addressesw a different person, it should be in a new paragraph, even if no one else said anything in between.

    So yes, the "cohesive" (sticks together) guideline is a bit fuzzy, leaving the writer some room for judgment. But it can often help you decide that a paragraph SHOULD be split into two or more smaller ones.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    not really... just various people's preferences and rather loose 'guidelines'...

    yes... given the basic common sense suggestions noted by posters above...

    the best way to learn how to paragraph your work is to check out a bunch of published works by established writers that are similar in genre and target market, to see how the pros do it...
     
  10. Heather Louise
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    Heather Louise Contributing Member Contributor

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    I suppose a lot of comes down to personall preferance really. I am paragraph mad - I start new paragraphs constantly and I am a big fan of trying to use a couple of papragraphs that are only a couple of words long. I think short ones can help when building tension.

    I was always taught at school that you should start a new paragraph each time someone new starts speaking, and generally if there is a switch in location as a given. After that, where ever you think they are required I suppose.
     
  11. Benska
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    Benska Member

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    I basically learned to do the things you all mentioned by doing what mammamaia said, I just couldn't explain it very well (some great writer I am, huh? :rolleyes:) but having it put into actual words definastely solidated it; provided some logical reasoning. Some author's methods just threw me off a bit.

    Cogito's "cohesive" rule seems like a good basis for paragraphing. But what you all said was helpful, thanks again =].
     

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