1. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    When to use paragraphs

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Komposten, Dec 30, 2012.

    When to use single new-line paragraphs

    I just read struggler's thread "a question about parapgraphs", and a thing popped into my mind which I had not thought of before.
    I've always got to learn that you start a new paragraph when you either jump in time, place or between characters. According to an answer in struggler's post this kind of paragraph change is accomplished through an empty line with a hash mark ('#') in the centre.

    So, my question is:
    When are you supposed to create "paragraphs" with single new-lines followed by an indent?


    I already use this kind of paragraphing though I wish to know more concretely when it should be used in order to avoid incorrect usage of it.



    Thanks in advance
    /Komposten
     
  2. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    I just glanced over at the other thread - I believe you misinterpreted the use of the #. It doesn't come between every paragraph - more along the lines of scene shifts. Paragraphs encompass an idea - when the idea changes or shifts, there's a new paragraph. If there's a jump in time or place, that's a scene shift. Jumps between characters could be either, depending on the POV you're using, for example.
     
  3. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Maybe I'm just misinterpreting what you are saying here, but isn't this actually what I said?

    But this I meant something like this:

     
  4. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i can't get what it is you are asking about... what do you mean by 'single new-lines followed by an indent'?

    are you asking about a single sentence paragraph that is only one line long?

    such as:

    regardless, the line break that contains the # is used as you noted, for time/place/character changes... it is also used before and after a block indent is inserted... is that what you're asking about?...
     
  5. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I know "single new-lines followed by an indent" is a bit confusing, though I couldn't come up with a better way to write it. What I want to say is when you after ending a paragraph, indents the line that follows (the first line in the next paragraph), without having any empty/white lines between the two paragraphs.

    Here is an example with a bit more (place holder) text to make it a bit easier to understand (I hope):

    To go to the new paragraph you press enter once (thereby "single new-line") and then you start the new line with an indent ("followed by an indent").
    Did it get any more clear?


    Also, could you give me an example of this:
     
  6. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    Simply put, indent new paragraphs. Use the # for scene changes. A new paragraph does not have to mean a change in time, place, or character; the first two are typically scene changes.
     
  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    you're still not making a lot of sense, sorry to say...

    your document should be set up for the writing to be double-spaced and for all paragraphs to be indented .5" automatically, so that you can keep typing till you get to the end of a paragraph and when you hit the 'enter' key the next line will be indented...

    the example you used is the same as what i showed you, but mine was properly double-spaced and i didn't bother to continue the final paragraph for several lines, since i thought you would understand it would go on to be full-sized one...

    so i'm not clear on what you still need to know... here is an example of a block indent:

    i couldn't make the first and last paragraphs indent, so just consider them indented...
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Use the paragraph properties of your word processor (a plain text editor is usable for short stories, but a word processing program is always a better choice).

    The important paragraph properties to set are double spaced text, a half inch first line indent (or one centimeter indent if you are using metric measurements), and no extra spacing between paragraphs. Text should be left aligned, not full justified or centered.

    One advantage of using paragraph properties instead of typing an indent at the beginning of each paragraph is that you can change it in one place if you encounter the oddball publisher who prefers no first line indent and an extra blank between paragraphs (more likely for short story submissions than for novels).
     
  9. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Alright.

    As it seems to me that we've got a little bit off topic here, I hope I can manage to put things right this time.


    There are two ways in which to create new paragraphs, you can (a) just indent the next line, or (b) use the #-version.

    As we've all come to agree on, the latter (b, that is) is used for changes in time, space and character.
    So to get back to the original question, when should you use the former type, a, for creating paragraphs?



    [HR][/HR]
    I realize now that the paragraph after the indent was cut at "quis", which it shouldn't be, if had noted this before I'd have corrected it so it would look like this (where I use '_' instead of an indent, in order to only have the first line indented):
    It never had anything to do with single line paragraphs, even though I agree that it looked like it was that which I meant.





    PS. I must seriously become better on describing things, :D
     
  10. idle
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    idle Active Member

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    I think that you are still mixing up (at least it looks like that, it might be just a misunderstanding) regular paragraphs with bigger chunks like scene breaks. I'm going to describe things in more detail, so I apologize if I'm explaining something you already know, it is only to make sure we all know what we are talking about.

    Paragraphs are line breaks that you get all the time (for example in dialog, there's a new paragraph for every change of speaker). And there are several ways of styling the paragraphs:
    a) You just start a new line. As someone mentioned, it isn't that easily readable, the paragraphs might look too crowded together.
    b) You leave an empty line to separate the paragraphs. That's what we often do on this forum, because the options c) and d) aren't available. But it is not exactly the right style, you wouldn't find it in a book and it doesn't belong in a MS either. Please don't take forum messages as an inspiration.
    c) Your text processor is set to leave some space before a new paragraph. You write like in a), but it looks more like b) (but the space is usually less than a line).
    d) You indent every new paragraph (possibly with the exception of the first one in a chapter or scene). This is also something you set in your text processor and do not do by hand.

    The important thing is to keep your paragraphs consistent, you choose one of the options and stick to it. So you don't ask when to indent - you either do it or don't.

    An empty line (or a line with a # in the middle) is used to break bigger sections - scenes. But that wouldn't be called a paragraph.

    I hope this helps a bit.
     
  11. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks for you input, idle.

    Though, my question is not really about when I should indent a new paragraph and when not to. I'm aware of the fact that you should stick to one single way of doing it.
    Basically, what I'm looking for is simple rules for when I should create a new paragraph at all, and not about how I do it.
    Like, e.g., you said about creating a new paragraph for each speaker in a dialogue. That is one case in which you create a new paragraph.
    (Oh god, I think I'm just make things even more confusing now...)
     
  12. idle
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    idle Active Member

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    The question is clear now, but not the answer. I think that the dialogue case is one of the few rules about it, mostly there will be just recommendations and the choice is up to you. It makes sense to start a new paragraph to introduce a new thought, when something new happens (somebody comes, a new activity starts), but I don't usually think much about it and do whatever sounds good to me to set the flow. It's a bit like deciding whether to use short or long sentences, just on another level.
     
  13. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I thought I would get that kind of answer, if things would ever get clear enough, though I had hoped for something more concrete, :D
    I myself cannot put any of the rules I use into words as I just create a new paragraph when it feels like there should be one. My reason for asking this question at all is mostly because I want to avoid excessive and/or unnecessary use of it (which might make my text less readable, I don't know).

    For now I'm just happy with getting an answer at all, at last, so thank you for that, Idle.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    that's what all of us do... there are no hard and fast rules for when to start a new paragraph [other than dialog, of course, which does have some rules]...

    take a look at any 10 works of fiction and you'll find a wide difference in the length of paragraphs, as well as why one ends and the next begins... so, you will have to make your own decisions, since there's no right or wrong, just different...
     
  15. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Some of my own rules and guidelines for starting new paragraphs are:

    - Rule: For every new speaker in dialogue. That speaker's paragraph may start with his action rather than speech, but it is still "his" paragraph. For example, if I had the following glob of text:

    Jane looked up. "What are you up to?" "I'm beating the egg whites. They're supposed to be in soft peaks," said Joe. "When they're perfect, I can turn the bowl upside down and they won't fall out." He tilted the bowl, then resumed whisking. Jane asked, "Isn't that stiff peaks?" Joe frowned. "Don't argue with me." Jane shrugged.

    it would be correctly broken up as the following. (Sorry, can't get the indents to work; pretend each paragraph is indented.)

    Jane looked up. "What are you up to?"
    "I'm beating the egg whites. They're supposed to be in soft peaks," said Joe. "When they're perfect, I can turn the bowl upside down and they won't fall out." He tilted the bowl, then resumed whisking.
    Jane asked, "Isn't that stiff peaks?"
    Joe frowned. "Don't argue with me."
    Jane shrugged.

    - Guideline: When the action, the idea, _something_ changes, something that supports a paragraph structure. This is partially guided by the secondary idea that I start a new paragraph when the last one has gone on "long enough". This means that if a paragraph starts to seem unwieldy, I'll not only cut it into two paragraphs, but I may re-order the ideas so that they're better grouped in the new pagraphs. And I may add new context so that the new paragraphs feel like they have more structure. The bonus is that often the paragraph guide the writing and drive me to add more meaning.

    For example, maybe Jane is dressing for the prom. In the first draft, in a single paragraph, I talk about her dress, her hair, her shoes, her sash, her lipstick, her jewelry, blah. That starts to get long, and I break up those ideas into two paragraphs, one about clothes (dress, shoes, sash, jewelry) and one about grooming (hair, lipstick).

    That starts to feel like a catalog, and a waste of words. But I want to get that information in there; we need it for the story later. To do that, I need to make those facts earn their short-term keep for some emotional reason.

    So I change again to one paragraph of her struggling awkwardly with unfamiliar clothes in the bedroom--panty hose, slip, dress, and I drop all mention of the sash because it doesn't fit the mood of physically struggling and no one cares about a detail that doesn't have some emotional or plot link. The focus is less on the clothes than on her feeling awkward, feeling big, feeling like an imposter in these girly garments that she feels she's imposing herslf on.

    Then there's aother paragraph of her nervously peering into the bathroom mirror as she finishes off hair, lipstick, and jewelry. She's starting to see herself as more of a finished work, to feel that maybe she is worth trimming and adorning.

    That sequence feels as if it calls for a new paragraph, where she's slipping on her shoes, as the final milestone, the completion of the creation that she's made of herself. If for plot reasons I really needed that sash, I could try to get it in here, because it also has a "finishing touch" feel. But I don't need it, and a single action has more impact, so the sash is gone.

    So in this scenario, the paragraphs drove me to change a boring little catalog-description scene into one with a lot of emotional content. And of course, it's not as if I have to stuff everything into that number of paragraphs--maybe the panty hose alone feel to me as if they rate their own paragraph. Heck, maybe they rate two or three; I can't imagine why, but if for some reason panty hose are terribly important to this story, they might. So it's not as if the bedroom action and the bathroom action have to have an equal number of paragraphs.

    But each paragraph should have some sense of internal logic. If we discussed the panty hose in excruciating detail, and then moved on to a line about a necklace, that line would go to a new paragraph because the the structure of the first paragraph is that it's "about" the panty hose. If, on the other hand, the panty hose got more of a single narrative-summary line, the necklace could go with them, and so could two or three other things, because the structure of the paragraph is a basket of summary actions or thought.

    And so on. Does that help at all?

    Edited to add: I'm not saying that I usually do all this thinking, but these ideas do quite often come up in a less-planned way. I'll break one paragraph into two, then realize that a piece of the second paragraph belongs in the first and move it, and so on.
     
  16. Komposten
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    Komposten Insanitary pile of rotten fruit Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Thanks to both of you. It is lovely to finally get some answers on this somewhat chaotic thread, heh.

    Of course it helps. Your post has made at least a couple of things more clear to me, and hopefully it will (together with all other things that I've learned from this thread) improve my writing.

    So, again thanks for you time.
     

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