Yesterday we discussed the dramatic elements that underpin your story. Today we get down to the nitty gritty details of paragraph structure. It sounds boring, and it can be a dry subject. But if you can master how to write interesting and well-structured paragraphs then you will create an easy to read novel, and your readers will want to read more!
Lucy Mccarraher has produced a great, easy to read and understand post on paragraphs “How to write fiction without the fuss: paragraphs”. It is definitely worth a read if you are looking at how to write and structure your paragraphs.
What is a paragraph?
So what is a paragraph? In both fiction, and non-fiction writing the paragraph is considered one of the most basic building blocks. Obviously words and sentences are even more basic, but it is the paragraph that allows you to string your story together. By definition a paragraph is “a distinct section of a piece of writing, usually dealing with a single theme and indicated by a new line, indentation, or numbering.”
A paragraph can be as little as one word, and as long as a page. But you need to be careful that it remains easy to read and emphasizes what you are saying. The purpose of a paragraph is to act as a visual break and to help create rhythms in your writing. The visual break helps readers to keep track of where they are up to on the page. Solid text, or very long paragraphs are intimidating and tiring to read. Paragraphs of different lengths help create rhythm within your story, as well as the atmosphere you wish to convey. For example; short paragraphs keep the action moving forward at a fast pace, whereas longer paragraphs tend to have detailed description and complex thought processes, which slow the story down.
In non-fiction the structure of your paragraph generally has to follow a set of rules. In fiction writing, which is what we are focusing on today, these rules are more of a rough guideline. Whilst fiction writing doesn’t have the same rigid constraints of non-fiction writing, each paragraph should still convey an idea that relates to the next paragraph and follows a logical sequence.
Think of a paragraph as a framework that contains a certain amount of information. In non-fiction terms this could be description, dialogue, action or any combination of those components. It can be one word, or many sentences.
Starting a new paragraph.
When should you start a new paragraph? This is often a confusing part of writing, and hopefully the points below will help to clarify this for you:
- Every time a different character starts to speak, their dialogue should start on a new line and form an individual paragraph. If there is action, internal though or description alternate this with their dialogue and you can keep it all in the same paragraph. However as soon as another character starts to speak or the focus shifts to them, then you should start a new paragraph.
- Start a new paragraph with every new piece of action, narration or thought process.
- When the focus of your story changes from one character to another begin a new paragraph.
Order of paragraphs.
The most important consideration when deciding which paragraph goes where is the logic of your plot. Place related paragraphs together and read through them to see if they progress in a coherent and easy to read manner. Play around with the order, see how this changes your story and the effect and atmosphere you wish to create. It can take time and lots of revising to make your paragraph structure flow from one to the next.
Paragraph structure is a fundamental tool for all writers. Learn to write paragraphs well and you will build scenes and action, develop characters, introduce themes and control the tension and progress of your story in the best and most logical way.
Tomorrow, we will take it down another level to sentence structure. This is getting into the very fine details of writing and structuring. It will be the last post in the Building Your Novel series. But don’t think the learning ends there! There is so much more to writing your novel.