Paragraph Structure

Paragraph Structure

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.

Paragraph structure.

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.

The Dramatic Elements

The Dramatic Elements

So far in the Building Your Novel Blog Series, we have discussed plotting and how to structure your story. Yesterday we touched briefly on the importance of the dramatic elements. Today we will go into more detail about the elements, how to incorporate them into your fictional novel and why they are important to your writing.

The four dramatic elements drive everything in your story. They are the fundamental building blocks that run underneath the outline of the 3-act structure. Each of the elements defines the next element, so that ultimately they combine together to form a powerful force behind your story. The elements are sub-textual, meaning they are not stated explicitly but the reader will feel their emotional force at work. It is what will bring them back to read more of your writing, and will create lasting impressions of your story.

Passion:

Your personal passions are your gateway to writing a memorable and successful novel. This is where all drama begins as an author. The more passionate you feel about something, the better you are able to convey those feelings through your writing to your readers. So what do you feel passionate about? Create a list if it helps, then you can use that to help pick a writing topic.

Theme:

From your passion you can derive a theme. Theme is the message you wish to share through your writing. The most effective themes are those that can be expressed in a few simple words, or a single short sentence. Passion and theme are quite similar, so to differentiate between them think of it like this: passion is your reason for writing your story, and theme is the take home message for your readers.

Theme is an essential tool a writer can use to test ideas for their story. As you develop each plot or story point ask yourself if it is interconnected to your theme. If it does not relate someway, then is it absolutely necessary to your story? If not, delete it!

Theme is most effectively conveyed by showing your readers what you want them to know, as opposed to telling them your message. For example, telling them that illegal drugs are bad is a weak message that your readers will not relate to. However by showing your reader the effect of illegal drugs on a person, their family and their health creates a lasting impression. Not many people enjoy being told what to believe, but this way you can subtly influence your reader and their beliefs.

Character:

It is your main characters’ inner conflict or flaw that drives your story and highlights your theme and passion. This is why when plotting your story it is important to take your time in developing your character.

Your character is a critical dramatic element that your story structure is based around. It is a good idea to develop your main character and their flaw or inner conflict early in your creative process and then base the other dramatic elements around your character flaw.

Generally speaking your main character may have several flaws, but when talking about structuring your story it is easiest to pick one main flaw and focus on that.

Characters are so important to your story. There will be a whole post dedicated to Character Development after the Building Your Novel series.

Premise

You premise combines your main character’s flaw and theme to form a “what if?” situation. It helps to move your story from start to finish.

I found this example a great help:

What if a (main character) set out to (task/journey) in order to (goal) and discovered (inner epiphany).

This helps you to define your main character and their flaw, the journey they take and their epiphany. From here you can flesh your story out, but the premise is a simple short sentence to help define your plot and story.

I hope this has helped to highlight the importance of the dramatic elements and how they help to draw your reader into your story. There is a blank worksheet on the Learning Tools page that you can print out and use to help plan your novel using the four dramatic elements. Tomorrow we will cover paragraph structure. The aim is to improve your writing, and it is also useful to help your write interesting and well-structured paragraphs. The end goal is a story that is easy to read and flows from one paragraph to the next.

Plot and Story Structure Relationship

Plot and Story Relationship

I have spoken a lot about plotting, using the 5 element or the 3 element style, and story structure utilizing the 3-act framework. It can be confusing when trying to come up with your story outline, plot and structure how they all relate to each other. So I decided to add a quick blog to this series that I hope clears up some of the confusion for you. I have designed a graph with all these elements overlapping to show their relationship. There is also a blank worksheet in Learning Tools that incorporates all these points.

GRAPH

Plotting!

Plotting

Are you flying by the seat of your pants when writing your novel? Are you a rebel who doesn’t sit down to plot before writing your story? Instead of just writing whatever pops into your head and seeing where it leads you, have you thought about plotting first? I am not saying that you should not let your creativity take you wherever you want to go, but following some plan and structure can help take your novel to the next level. By following a rough road map for your story you ensure it follows a logical course of action, and it really does help to develop the emotional and physical aspects of your novel. It gives it more depth then just wallowing along.

I used to have an idea for a story and just sit down and write. Now I spend the time creating a rough plot, structure and developing characters. It sounds time consuming, but I find it so helpful. My writing has improved tremendously and my novels are now multi-dimensional instead of rather simplistic. Please don’t think I am accusing anyone who doesn’t plot of writing trash. If that works for you and you create great writing then fantastic! I envy you. My problem with not having a plot to guide me is I tend to get lost in my writing and waffle. If you find the same, then keep reading.

I have developed the following tips and knowledge about plotting from research, writing courses and experimenting with various methods. Like I have said many times before, writing is a very individual process and you need to find what works for you. Borrow tips and advice from the web, fellow writers and books until you develop a method that works for you.

What is Plot?

First of all, make sure you know the difference between plot and story structure. They are terms that can often be used interchangeably, however they are very different. They are both vital to the telling of your story and it is important if you want to sketch out your novel before writing it, that you know the difference between them.

Fundamentally plot is the “what” and “why” of your story, and structure is how you tell your reader about it. Structure can be changed to suit the way you would like to tell the story, whereas plot tends to be linear. Plot is a roadmap from point A to point B that helps to organize the events and information of your novel in a logical manner; essentially it is the sequence of your story. Plot is what you use to draw the reader into your story and the character’s lives; it is the mechanism for drawing the readers’ interest.

The Elements of Plot.

Traditionally a plot contains 5 elements. This part is a bit dry and clinical, but is important to understand if you would like help to develop a great plot that is logical and makes sense to your reader. The 5 elements:

  1. Exposition: or introduction. This is the beginning of your story where you establish characters and the setting. Traditionally this is also where you first introduce the conflict or main problem that is central to your novel.
  2. Rising action: This is the part of your novel where a series of events lead up to the conflict or climax. This is the main part of the story where you build upon the readers’ emotions using excitement, tension, fear and all those other emotions.
  3. Climax: The climax is the main point of the plot; it is the turning point of the story.
  4. Falling action: This is where you wind up the story. There is resolution for the main characters of your story.
  5. Denouement: The end of the novel, either happy or tragic.

5plotelements

If you find the traditional 5 plot elements hard to use, or too restrictive, then don’t worry. You can reduce your plot down to 3 simple elements and base your story around that:

  1. An initial problem (beginning).
  2. Added complication (middle).
  3. A resolution (end).

I tend to use the 3 elements as I find it less dry and restrictive. You will find worksheets for the 5 elements and the 3 elements plotting styles on the Learning Tools page. They are blank worksheets you can print out in order to help with plotting.

How Do You Design An Interesting Plot?

So, you now know the elements of plotting but how do you design a good and interesting plot? A good plot draws your reader in, maintains their interest, and creates long-lasting impressions and memories of your book. I have found that there are 3 basic ways to help create a good plot:

  1. You can use a traditional story or anecdote from real life, whether yours or someone else’s.
  2. You can start with the initial situation, or conflict, and work forward.
  3. You can pick your climax and work back from there.

So you can see from this, that plot sketching is usually event orientated.

Useful Links:

A Writer’s Cheat Sheet to Plot and Structure

Learn the Elements of a Novel: Structure and Plot.

Plot vs Structure

That concludes the first blog post in the Build Your Novel Blog Series. Tomorrow we will cover story structure, which tends to be more emotional and character orientated. This is the next step in plotting and outlining your best selling novel!