1. explodingboy
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    explodingboy New Member

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    starting a new paragraph

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by explodingboy, Jul 20, 2010.

    i have a hard time telling when i should and shouldn't start a new paragraph.

    anyone know of a good blanket thing to keep in mind that helps to make it a clearer decision?
     
  2. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There's no real hard and fast rule for paragraphing. Paragraphs are just there to make reading a little easier, so the text doesn't look like one big intimidating block. Generally, you start a new paragraph when you're moving on from one point to the next, from one subject to the next. For instance, I probably should have started a new paragraph with the previous sentence, starting with "Generally".

    Here's a quick little example that might help:

    "Fred was tall and thin, with a pale complexion and fiery red hair. Some of the skin of his long, narrow nose was peeling after too much time in the sun. His mouth was wide, with almost no lips, and he was missing two of his upper teeth.

    He was wearing a stained green T-shirt and faded blue jeans, baggy and equally stained with the grease of his workshop. A red tattered rag hung from his belt and he always seemed to be nervously wiping his hands on it. He wore no belt and it seemed a miracle that his pants stayed up, but they did."

    In this little piece of description, I used the first paragraph to describe Fred's body and face, and the second to describe his clothing. It would have been just about as easy to combine all this into one paragraph and use the next paragraph to talk about something else, but this way works, too.

    It's a judgment call. Read the work of good writers and you'll gradually develop a feel for where paragraph breaks should be.
     
  3. explodingboy
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    explodingboy New Member

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    thanks so much. i honestly enjoyed your example.
     
  4. Tamsin
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    Tamsin Senior Member

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    Actually, there are set rules for paragraphing...

    Change of time, change of place, change of topic and change of person speaking.

    The above example wouldn't be a change of paragraph. You can separate your work into smaller paragraphs on the forum to make it easier for people to critique, which I think is what Minstrel means.

    Of course, you as the writer can decide when to break paragraphs, but thems the rules...it is worth sticking to them otherwise readers will just think you don't know when to change paragraph. Like Minstrel says, reading regularly will help you to get a feel for them.
     
  5. Halcyon
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    Halcyon Contributing Member Contributor

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    I personally advocate starting a new paragraph immediately after ending the previous one.

    No thanks necessary. ;)
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    The only one of these that I would faithfully observe is "change of person speaking" and I've seen other writers violate even that.

    Let's face it: There are no absolute rules for writing fiction. As soon as someone states one, some good writer produces a perfectly sound and interesting work of fiction that violates it. Writing fiction is an art, not an exact science.

    Usually, when someone states a "rule" for writing fiction, they really mean a "rule of thumb" - not a hard-and-fast rule, but a guideline that will help inexperienced writers. That's really what Tamsin's rules above are. If you're unsure, follow Tamsin's rules and you won't go far wrong. But if you're feeling adventurous and you have some skill and confidence, feel free to experiment with paragraph breaks. You might find that a passage of your writing is stronger if the rules are sometimes broken.

    I'm discussing fiction here, obviously. Writers of nonfiction, of essays for school especially, adhere more closely to set paragraph structures. They are writing, first and foremost, to convey information. Dazzling the reader with innovative new literary techniques is very low on the essayist's priority list, generally.
     
  7. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    All rules are breakable. Yaddah, yaddah.

    Truth.

    But this doesn't mean that they don't exist, and I believe the OP's question was tuned to understanding the rules. Tamsin gave a solid list of logical boundaries where a paragraph should break. Can a paragraph break in other places?

    Of course it can.

    But it should do so with intent, reason, and purpose. Not just willy nilly. Louis L'amoure is very fond of breaking off little sentences into paragraphs of their own to add dramatic weight to the line.

    He did it all the time.

    One might say overdid it.

    But the fact remains that he did know the actual rules for something as basic and fundamental as where to break a paragraph. Did he show artistic license? Of course. Is it to everyone's taste? I can't answer for everyone.
     
  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i have to ditto the poster who said to READ the work of good writers to see how/when/why it's done...
     

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