Tags:
  1. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    7,605
    Likes Received:
    7,916
    Location:
    England

    Those pesky paragraphs

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by OurJud, Sep 24, 2020.

    I know it’s one of those things we shouldn’t spend too much time deliberating over with a first draft, but I do so there we have it. Whether or not, and when, to start a new paragraph stems my flow perhaps more than anything else. I think I can ‘hear’ when one needs to happen, but then I stop and think no, there are rules for paragraphs, and so the deliberation begins.

    Are there, in fact, hard and fast rules regarding paragraphs, and if so what are they?
     
  2. Kstaraga

    Kstaraga Member

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2020
    Messages:
    46
    Likes Received:
    27
    Here's a few things about paragraph advice I've heard over the years:

    1. Start a new paragraph when you start a new idea/new speaker in a dialogue
    2. Be familiar with transition words that can help start a new paragraph
    3. Always indent
    4. Paragraphs are usually 3-5 sentences in length
    5. Study examples of paragraph transitions from experienced writers and well written literature.
    6. Practice makes perfect

    I suppose this isn't a skill that's been difficult for me to do, but I remember in English classes there were some that struggled with this and it's understandable. Sometimes it is confusing.
     
  3. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    7,605
    Likes Received:
    7,916
    Location:
    England
    I think it’s the ‘new idea’ thing that trips me up. I instinctively want to start a new paragraph but then stop and think, but this is part of the same scene.
     
    Kstaraga likes this.
  4. Hammer

    Hammer Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 28, 2018
    Messages:
    1,341
    Likes Received:
    2,886
    Location:
    UK
    This grammarly blog page states that "There are no strict rules about how many words or lines your paragraphs should be, and there’s no need to lock your doors if you occasionally write long or short ones"

    None of my betas have ever complained about paragraph length, and I can't recall seeing it in any critiques here or elsewhere (unless the piece was written on mobile phone with no 'graphs at all).

    It would appear to more an art than a science

    Bingo!
     
    Kstaraga and OurJud like this.
  5. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    May 8, 2017
    Messages:
    2,679
    Likes Received:
    3,447
    Location:
    Shangri-La
    I don't think so. Generally if something new happens or or there's a new idea then you'd start a new paragraph. You also don't want them to be too long.
     
    OurJud likes this.
  6. JuliaBrune

    JuliaBrune Member

    Joined:
    Sep 13, 2020
    Messages:
    42
    Likes Received:
    40
    Location:
    Lyon, France
    As a reader, I've seen both very long and very short paragraphs in published books (as in, the average length of the paragraphs in the book, not individual examples). I've never been annoyed at the former, but I found the latter infuriating and I kept getting lost *especially* when reading on a screen.

    So in my experience, always err on the side of too short rather than too long
     
    Homer Potvin and OurJud like this.
  7. Kstaraga

    Kstaraga Member

    Joined:
    Aug 31, 2020
    Messages:
    46
    Likes Received:
    27
    Follow your instinct and see how it works out! :) Many times instincts are correct.
     
    OurJud likes this.
  8. Mana_Kawena

    Mana_Kawena Member

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2020
    Messages:
    55
    Likes Received:
    59
    Location:
    USA
    When it comes to writing academic paragraphs or "formal" works, there are plenty of online sources to help with things like transitions, minimum number of sentences, etc.

    But given the type of people in this forum, I'd guess you're more interested in tips on the artful paragraph rather than the the typical hard and fast rules!

    Something I always recommend writers to do, is to look into how filmmakers orchestrate shots. You have the long shot, over the shoulder, close-up, etc... if you imagine each "shot" as its own paragraph, I find that it's easier to get a feel for paragraphing for those who vividly imagine their scenes as they write them. For example...

    You may begin your story on the equivalent of a paragraph describing the scenery or setting, perhaps building the world in a way similar to how the extreme wide shot in film gives the audience a look at the world the story is taking place in.

    You might then transition to a new paragraph, and a description of your protagonist, detailing them from their hair to their shoes in the equivalent of a full shot.

    The next paragraph you may get a little closer, focusing on their expression. Perhaps they look pained or desperate, creating wonder for your reader. This would be a variant of the close-up.


    Other considerations go hand-in-hand with sentence length; long and bloated sentences slow a scene down, causing your reader to slow down and soak in the words. Short sentences give the illusion of speed and send your reader galloping along.

    Extend this to paragraphs and you'll know what to do; do you want your reader to feel for your character slogging through a marsh? Consider a longer paragraph with lengthy, burdensome sentences and large words to tire your reader out at the same rate as your protagonist is exhausted by their endless march. This can also be used to test your use of paragraphs as well; extremely long paragraphs may be a symptom of an information dump, hinting that you might need to pull back on those reins and not spill everything out all at once.

    Want to increase tension in a chase? Use short sentences. Make your paragraphs brief. Quick movements. Single-word dialogues and incomplete sentences to communicate that your character hasn't the time to speak, and needs to act fast. This also would work for something important that you don't want your reader to miss, as particularly large text walls make it difficult for your reader to discern what's most important if the words just keep coming.

    As in all creative writing, sentence and even paragraph length is more art than science; and once you have nailed down your personal voice, you will find that even hard-and-fast rules are more malleable than you may have previously thought.

    Best wishes!
     
    OurJud and Seven Crowns like this.
  9. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    7,605
    Likes Received:
    7,916
    Location:
    England
    If this is how paragraphs are generally shaped in fiction then it's a massive help. I already see my scenes as I would in a film.
     
    Mana_Kawena likes this.
  10. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Get off my Balzac... Staff Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 8, 2017
    Messages:
    7,710
    Likes Received:
    14,303
    Location:
    Rhode Island
    I'm with you... long paragraphs drive me absolutely bonkers. Lots of 19th century lit has walls and walls of unbroken text that makes me want to gouge my eyes out. But then Faulkner had that sentence in The Bear that was like 30 pages long, which I thought was pretty cool, so go figure.
     
  11. Mana_Kawena

    Mana_Kawena Member

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2020
    Messages:
    55
    Likes Received:
    59
    Location:
    USA
    While I'd hesitate to claim something like this is how things are "generally shaped in fiction," it's definitely a place to start, and it may just be a perfect fit if you already imagine like film. It's a result of our media culture that we write differently from pre-film "masters" of the past; people are accustomed, even if only subconsciously, to writing in a modern "filmmaking" style in part because visual media is so pervasive in our everyday lives. Glad that the examples helped you out! :D
     
    OurJud likes this.
  12. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2016
    Messages:
    4,500
    Likes Received:
    3,978
    I don't think this is true. My writing is not like movies, it's like writing. We're not all spending our time binge watching Netflix. I'm more likely to binge read than watch much television. We decide how we want to spend our time. And that does affect a lot of things. Most of my friends are writers. Before covid we would go to bookstore readings and lectures on different aspects of the craft. And I don't think what I read seems film like. It's just not a trend I've come across and I don't advise that as a way to write. If you watch too much television and movies, I think your missing out on other things, but I don't think there's a shift in culture to write in more cinematic ways. I just don't see it that way.
     
  13. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    May 8, 2017
    Messages:
    2,679
    Likes Received:
    3,447
    Location:
    Shangri-La
    What does writing in a more cinematic way look like? The forms are so different.
     
    deadrats likes this.
  14. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    7,605
    Likes Received:
    7,916
    Location:
    England
    I think the novels that get picked up by film producers for possible adaptation could be described as being written in a cinematic way.
     
  15. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    7,605
    Likes Received:
    7,916
    Location:
    England
    But by the same token it’s silly to suggest there’s no correlation between the two mediums. Why else would so many books be adapted for cinema if there wasn’t?
     
  16. Friedrich Kugelschreiber

    Friedrich Kugelschreiber Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    May 8, 2017
    Messages:
    2,679
    Likes Received:
    3,447
    Location:
    Shangri-La
    I suppose, although it seems like the popularity of the book is often more influential in that regard than any supposed cinematic qualities. What is a quality of literature that could be described as cinematic, in the sense of having been derived from film? I'm having trouble coming up with examples.
     
    Selbbin likes this.
  17. Selbbin

    Selbbin The Moderating Cat Staff Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2012
    Messages:
    4,541
    Likes Received:
    3,448
    Location:
    Australia
    Money. It's mostly famous books that get adapted. rarely obscure ones. Same as remakes and sequels. A built in established knowledge of the product, leaching off it's existing fame. That's why many adaptations suck. The book simply isn't suitable to be made into a film. Others simply steal the premise and title while the story itself is nothing like the original text.
     
  18. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    7,605
    Likes Received:
    7,916
    Location:
    England
    The film Kes is virtually a scene-for-scene, word for word adaptation of the book, A Kestral for a Knave.

    Nor do I agree it’s always famous books that get adapted. There’s dozens of books I’d never even heard of until the film, and what’s more it’s precisely because I thought the film would make for a good book that I bothered to find out if it was an adaptation.
     
  19. Selbbin

    Selbbin The Moderating Cat Staff Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2012
    Messages:
    4,541
    Likes Received:
    3,448
    Location:
    Australia
    I didn't write always. I wrote mostly. As in: the greater part or number. So I wouldn't agree they always do that either.
     
  20. montecarlo

    montecarlo Active Member

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2020
    Messages:
    244
    Likes Received:
    262
    Location:
    America's Heartland
    I heard some good advice recently, that paragraphs should often end with the most important/emotional part as a way of increasing tension. So that may be a good guideline, if you just wrote something that is meant to leave the reader saying "whoa, man", hit the enter key next.
     
    OurJud likes this.
  21. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2009
    Messages:
    7,605
    Likes Received:
    7,916
    Location:
    England
    I think that's good advice, except for the fact most paragraphs don't end on such a note.
     
  22. Mana_Kawena

    Mana_Kawena Member

    Joined:
    Sep 21, 2020
    Messages:
    55
    Likes Received:
    59
    Location:
    USA
    As a continuation on the conversation, Montecarlo, that's also some wonderful advice that's a lot like what is said in poetry; that the most impactful words be placed at the beginning and ending of the line, in order to emphasize it to the reader and make it hit harder. As for culture shifts, deadrats, I can say with 100% *certainty* that the culture shift since Hollywood and film has had a HUGE impact on books that make it to the NYT Bestsellers lists, and especially the simple mass-market paperbacks that come and go like shooting stars, thrillers, and the like. And in the times of old, the only true "bestseller" were the equivalent of Bibles, with much of what we would consider "good" writing left alone on dark and dusty shelves not to be discovered for decades and years later. Let's just face it; no matter how well we write, there are those readers who couldn't care less, and all they want is a story they can follow. While I don't watch much television myself either, I approach every form of storytelling as though it has something it can teach me; something about character, pacing, design, and the like are just a few, even if they don't improve my writing skill like picking up a book by one of the old masters might (and believe me, it's not as though every "classic" is perfect, either!). In terms of a beginner trying to understand the nuances of paragraphing, I use cinema as a way to at least start wrapping your head around it other than saying something like "every four sentences" or "whenever it feels right" just can't quite explain as well to someone new to the whole idea of the artful paragraph.

    All in all, OurJud has brought up some nice points as well... I'd say that while novels, poems, filmmaking, and all these mediums may differ in their precise expression in terms of their exact output, it is important to remember that they are all based in storytelling itself which, at its heart, is something that has been shaped and formed over countless millennia by humankind. In my opinion, the more that you can learn about not just one form of storytelling expression, but about others as well, the more wide and varied of a palette a creator will have to draw from in order to create the story that they envision, and in turn, grow in their ability to develop their own unique sense of style and voice.

    Remember... while paragraphing is important, it is only one small element in a wide pool of elements at the disposal of a writer. Whatever works best for an individual one day may differ from what they choose to use to express themselves in their next story and the next, etc....

    The journey is a neverending one, and each of us has our own road we travel to arrive at the destination!
     
    OurJud likes this.
  23. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 7, 2016
    Messages:
    4,500
    Likes Received:
    3,978
    People read more than the Bible, even going back a hundred years or more. These manuscripts weren't waiting around to be discovered. Plenty of books and writers were popular in their time. I'm not stupid and I don't live in a bubble, but I also make deliberate choices to include reading and writing in my life because it makes me happy. And I think usually we make friends with people who share are interests and fews. I'm not sure even half my real friends own a tv, but we buy and read and share and discuss things we regularly. Most of my friends are writers and no one is even thinking about movies when it comes to our work. Even my friend who sold the movie rights for his book never thought about writing a book in a way that was like a movie because his book is not like that at all. To date, he has been paid for these rights, but the book has not been made into a film and most likely won't. It's been several years.

    Good writing is about language. Always. Sure, it's about other things, too, but the backbone is always the language and how it is used, the actual language. You lose that in film. Pulitzer and Booker prize books don't seem to usually make it into film, but I think those tend to be the best stories of the year. I'll include the short lists or even the long lists for these prizes as well in that. If someone thinks they are going to get the same level of storytelling from a two-hour movie, they probably aren't picking up those books, but, man, are they missing out. Movies might help generate ideas, but I don't think they really to much if anything when it comes to writers putting words on a page.

    Another thing to note since (once again) movies has crept into a writing discussion is something Francis Ford Coppola said. He believes movies are closer in form to short stories more so than novels. He says short stories are designed to be read in one sitting just as movies are meant to be viewed in one sitting. And Coppola does own well-known literary journal called Zoetrope which publishes all short fiction. When you sell them a short story, they buy the option to turn it into a movie within a certain timeframe as part of their contract.

    I don't think anyone can argue that Coppola doesn't know his stuff when it comes to movies. But he also has high standards when it comes to literature and he's not always or even regularly trying to merge the two, even when he acquires the option to do so. So, if we look at things from his point of view, short story writers are closer to creating stories that will make for better movies than novelists. Still, I think anyone trying to write like a movie is going to lack to many other elements of writing to produce a solid story. Of course, if you are writing a script, that's a little different, but then you should be reading scripts and not just watching movies. The writing matters. It's never just the story. The way a writer unfolds and layers should not be a simple thing to adapt into a film even if it's possible. I also think it's important to take things one step at a time. Even if you want your book to become a movie, you are still writing a story, not a play-by-play of events or stage directions. There are so many elements of writer that can't be captured by film, and yet a writer would be wise to indulge in some of those elements for the sake of the story. I guess anyone who watches more tv and movies might have a harder time grasping what I'm saying here. If that's true, I suggest a little more reading and always write like a writer. You're creating a story, not just watching it play out.
     

Share This Page

  1. This site uses cookies to help personalise content, tailor your experience and to keep you logged in if you register.
    By continuing to use this site, you are consenting to our use of cookies.
    Dismiss Notice