Paragraphs Made Simple – Part 1


Good creative writing often looks easy to write. It’s only when you try to write for yourself you start coming across certain errors, often with paragraphing. One of the main errors I notice in all first drafts, which is expected of a first draft,  is with paragraphing. Here are some tips to clarify their usage in creative writing.

 1. Start a new paragraph when starting a new idea.

For example, maybe you have written a few sentences depicting a fight scene. The next part is where one of the characters involved storms out and we follow their thoughts and feelings over what just happened. This should be started in a new paragraph. Why? For one reason, because it is a new event, even though it is connected to the last event. Another reason is that, likely if not separated the paragraph will become excessively long. Long paragraph, short paragraphs it doesn’t necessarily matter. It’s a style choice but there are pitfalls to both types of paragraphs.

Too long a paragraph and it becomes more difficult for your reader to follow the story, because they have much more information to absorb without a pause or change of speed.

Too short a paragraph and it’s likely not enough has happened or occurred. This depends of course on why it’s short. It could be for emphasis or to create the illusion of speed. The only way to decide is to trust your instinct or to ask for others to review your work and give you feedback. 

2. Start a new paragraph if someone new is speaking.

This isn’t a definite rule. It can work having multiple speakers in a paragraph but generally it’s better to start a new paragraph or line to avoid the confusion. Otherwise it can feel like trying to follow a conversation with multiple people at the same time and your reader can get a little lost. It also gives the reader a pause to digest the information better. Consider these two examples:

Example 1

She ran like hell to get there and when she did John was waiting with Kerry and Brooke. “What is it Carter?”. John’s smile was weak, false even. He was more interested because he was nosey than because he cared. “I just saw Brooke’s brother. He…”. She couldn’t tell them. She knew she must but she couldn’t. Brooke faced her. “Tell me. What did he do now?”.

Example 2

She ran like hell to get there and when she did John was waiting with Kerry and Brooke. 

“What is it Carter?”. John’s smile was weak, false even. He was more interested because he was nosey than because he cared. 

“I just saw Brooke’s brother. He…”. She couldn’t tell them. She knew she must but she couldn’t. 

Brooke faced her. “Tell me. What did he do now?”

Both work here, in their own ways. They are short enough to be followed easily but if you added another similar paragraph of three people speaking, example 1 would become difficult to follow. It would need a least some of the information to be broken up with spacing or paragraphs just because there are so many speakers to follow.

Think about it this way, there are three people in the scene and another person who is referred to in the conversation but who is not present. That’s four people’s names, actions and descriptions to follow. The reader will be fine if they are clear as to who each of these people are but it is like having four people to concentrate on at once. 

If you prefer the style of example 1 but want to make sure it’s clearer you could split it with just one paragraph break. For example:

Example 3

She ran like hell to get there and when she did John was waiting with Kerry and Brooke. “What is it Carter?”. John’s smile was weak, false even. He was more interested because he was nosey than because he cared. 

“I just saw Brooke’s brother. He…”. She couldn’t tell them. She knew she must but she couldn’t. Brooke faced her. “Tell me. What did he do now?”.

None of these examples are wrong. They are just a matter of personal choice. Personally I tend to prefer example 2 because I have each person in their own paragraph so there is no confusion but some people find example 1 or example 3 more appealing which is fine. As I always stress thatthere is no right answer here, just take care not to overload your reader with too much information in any single paragraph. After all that’s what paragraphing is for, to allow multiple ideas in one piece of writing while allowing the reader breaks between those ideas. 

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6 thoughts on “Paragraphs Made Simple – Part 1

  1. Another tip about writing paragraphs: vary your sentence length in order to prevent your writing from getting too monotonous. Having each paragraph be internally diverse can help make an entire work feel more interesting and dynamic.

  2. Hi there, Bardic. This is a great article on paragraph structure. Do you mind if I feature the entire post on my blog, A Writer’s Path (6,200 followers) as a guest post? I have on guest posts about 3 times a week. I would, of course, give you credit by name and provide a link for my followers to check out your blog. Before even considering, I wanted to ask you first.

    -Ryan
    http://www.ryanlanz.com

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