1. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    Paragraph mechanics

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by archer88i, Jul 19, 2017.

    A lifetime ago, I took a writing course taught by Al Dewlen. I've probably forgotten most of what he had to say, but a few things stuck with me, and one of those was something that (I believe) he called "rolled paragraphs." The idea is that you write a normal paragraph in the style your fourth grade teacher taught you (a subject sentence, a middle sentence or sentences, and a concluding sentence), and then you mess it up.

    Normal paragraphs:

    1. Introduction.
    2. Stuff.
    3. Conclusion.

    1. Introduction.
    2. Stuff.
    3. Conclusion.

    Rolled paragraphs:

    1. Introduction.
    2. Stuff.
    3. Conclusion.
    4. Introduction.

    1. Stuff.
    2. Conclusion.
    3. Introduction.​

    The idea is that you then end up with a reader who, having finished a paragraph (and reached what should be a good stopping point), is now left wondering where you're going--since, of course, you already left. The intent is to make a book emotionally difficult to put down. Like, literally. And of course the same concept works at higher organizational levels like scenes, chapters, and so forth.

    This is one of those pieces of advice that I actually try to follow. (There aren't many--just ask anyone who's met me.) I find that it's difficult to do where you have a lot of dialog, but I think the existence of a line of dialog on the very next line pretty much makes it unnecessary, so whatever. The big reason I try to follow it is that, in my experience, it's almost disturbingly effective. Like mind control.

    What was the last book you read that you couldn't put down? Why do you think that is?
     
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  2. ASBraun

    ASBraun New Member

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    Interesting share! Thanks for this exploration. I suspect that there is a variety of ways of producing a similar effect in the reader. For my own part, I think that the kind of attention-grabbing techniques used by D. F. Wallace in Infinite Jest were miraculous, because they successfully motivated me (an inattentive reader) to complete 1000+ pages of material. Wallace felt indebted to the reader for their lending him attention. I think this appreciation came through, and he said that he wanted to make the work sufficiently fun to make up for the work it required from his audience. This transparency of appreciation and exchange is one of the things that endeared the work to me, and I admit that I am concerned more manipulative techniques may not cultivate that kind of bond with the writer. I don't mean to say at all though that techniques unlike this one are cynical though. Great topic choice. Thanks again for sharing!
     
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  3. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    Well, all writing is manipulation: your goal is to have a controlled effect on the reader's emotional state. I view that cynically because *I* am cynical, but that doesn't make it inherently bad--other people might describe it as shared empathy, or something that sounds equally warm and fuzzy. :D

    What were some things that Wallace did to keep you reading?
     
  4. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    The "Normal Paragraph" sounds like the advice I've heard about giving a presentation:

    Tell 'em what you're going to say.
    Say it.
    Tell 'em what you've just said.

    But the "Rolled Paragraph"? Sounds like I'm going to spend my whole time saying "Why did he just introduce a whole new thought into that paragraph? Doesn't he know that each paragraph should be a separate thought?"

    Perhaps once or twice, just to keep the reader on his/her toes, maybe. But EVERY BLOODY PARAGRAPH???
     
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  5. izzybot

    izzybot (unspecified) Contributor

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    That was my thought. Maybe it could work in practice, but the description doesn't sound appealing.
     
  6. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I don't like the sound of the rolled paragraph, but maybe I'm just being resistant to change. Does anyone have an example of a passage written that way they could post as an example?
     
  7. Mumble Bee

    Mumble Bee Keep writing. Contributor

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    There are times when men milk cows.
    Right down the street, there is a man with a bucket, milking his cow. Milking cows happens.
    There are times when men milk men...

    Right down the street there is a man named Ross. Ross is a milk man. Ross is the man who happens to be the biological father of every child who lives off the street.
    This is Ross's explanation.

    Is this what you're talking about?

    ETA: I don't think I get it.
     
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2017
  8. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I just looked at my WIP and I'm struggling to see how I'd apply this. Maybe it's not advice intended for fiction? Or at least not the kind of fiction I write, with lots of dialogue and generally fairly short paragraphs for exposition.
     
  9. ASBraun

    ASBraun New Member

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    The book was uniquely personal, I think. Apparently Wallace himself suggested that The Catcher in the Rye was so effective because of the way the narrator connected with the reader, on a personal level, in a style that almost imitates personal confidence. The book was enormous but broken up into tiny discrete fragments that (although tricky) were surprisingly easy to digest, bit by bit. Every fragment was a piece that offered one more kernel of knowledge that would form part of the over-arching big picture, which was kind of a mystery on a grand scale. The most magnetic features of the book though can be found elsewhere, I think; a genuinely likable voice, good pacing, interesting characters, novel ideas, etc. I should also add that the "work" aspect of the book kind of makes you feel like to book itself is a creative project that YOU are involved with, and your motivated to complete your complete picture of his disordered world. Those are some of the things that I recall interesting me at the time.
     
  10. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    Well, I don't recall what Dewlen's advice was, but I did say above that I don't think you can use it on every paragraph. But most of 'em? Probably. And, for BayView: yes, this is intended for fiction. I dunno what kind you write. :)

    An excellent example of this would be the novel Across the Nightingale Floor, which I remember devouring over the course of two days, reading it during every free moment I had. Here are the first two paragraphs:

    My mother used to threaten to tear me into eight pieces if I knocked over the water bucket, or prtended not to hear her calling me to come home as the dust thickened and the cicadas' shrilling increased. I would hear her voice, rough and fierce, echoing through the lonely valley. "Where's that wretched boy? I'll tear him apart when he gets back."

    But when I did get back, muddy from sliding down the hillside, bruised from fighting, once bleeding great spouts of blood from a stone wound to the head (I still have the scar, like a slivered thumbnail), there would be the fire, and the smell of soup, and my mother's arms not tearing me apart but trying to hold me, clean my face, or straighten my hair, while I twisted like a lizard to get away from her.
    So, paragraph one ends with a promise of what will happen when the boy gets home. Paragraph two contains what happens when he does get home. The tail of paragraph two is less leading, I think; the next paragraph does follow on directly, as it is a description of the mother and her life, starting with how she's strong as a result of her labor (which, of course, is why the kid can't escape her grasp), but the question raised by paragraph two is not as direct as the question raised by paragraph one.

    Maybe that's a good way to describe it: a rolled paragraph ends with a question (by which I mean an implied or inferred question) answered by the next. You see this (often literally) in TV shows and movies, where a character asks, "Where is Bob?" and the next scene cuts to Bob.
     
  11. Aaron Smith

    Aaron Smith Banned Contributor

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    This is some advanced stuff.
     
  12. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Hmmm... to me the dialogue ties in tidily with the paragraph it's in... this is all the stuff that's happening while he's missing, the next paragraph is all the stuff that happens when he gets back.

    I could accept this as saying there should be a connection between the paragraphs, or that there should occasionally be a "question asked" or topic introduced in the last line of the paragraph above, but I don't think it works for me as an extended rule.
     
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  13. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I'm realizing that I misunderstood the original concept. I thought the idea was that the conclusion for concept X came before the introduction and discussion for concept X, which seemed pretty strange. Instead, it's just that we knock off X and introduce Y, then have a paragraph break and dive further into Y?

    (Edited first paragraph because there were tangles.)

    That seems reasonable, sometimes, sure. You don't want the individual paragraphs to be isolated arms-folded don't-touch-me structures. But I guess I never have done the idea-expansion-conclusion all that firmly anyway, so the breaking of a rule that I never saw as being all that strict for fiction in the first place is feeling like a fuzzy concept for me.

    I just went digging through my recent stuff to see if and how much I do this, and frankly it's hard to find enough dialogue-free chunks to be sure. :)
     
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  14. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    Maybe I'll post something about dialog some other time and then we can go into that. :p
     

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