How to Use Paragraphs in Creative Writing

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How to Use Paragraphs in Creative Writing

Status: Finished

How to Use Paragraphs in Creative Writing

Article by: SolN

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Paragraphs are the basic building blocks of creative writing. This article explores how to use them correctly.
 
 

Content Summary

Paragraphs are the basic building blocks of creative writing. This article explores how to use them correctly.

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Submitted: May 07, 2015

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The Use of Paragraphs

Many beginner writers are not sure how to create paragraphs. Often, stories, or chapters of books are one long paragraph, or sometimes several long paragraphs. Readers do not like long paragraphs as long blocks of text are intimidating and make it difficult for a reader to process the text.

What is a paragraph? A paragraph is a collection of sentences that are grouped together around an idea. Often, the first sentence of the paragraph will highlight the idea and then the rest of the sentences will explain and expand upon this. Once the focus shifts to a new idea, then it is time for a new paragraph.

In fiction writing, you should consider starting a new paragraph when any of the following occurs:

  • There is a change in perspective.
  • There is a shift in location.
  • A different character speaks (you should create a new paragraph anytime someone different says something).
  • There is a change in focus or thought.

One way to think about a paragraph is like a movie script. Anytime the scene shifts, or the topic changes, or a character speaks, it's a new paragraph.

Paragraphs can be as short as one word or as long as many pages. There is no standard size but if your paragraph has grown beyond a quarter of a page, it may be a sign that you need to split it.

Let's take a look at an example:

Here's an excerpt from Static Mayhem by Edward Aubrey, a published book workshopped on TheNextBigWriter.  First, I have removed all of the paragraphs:

He stopped singing. It would have been difficult to continue over the din of his heartbeat, anyway. Aware of safety concerns for the first time in a long while, he focused on the drive. A radio station existed and transmitted. He allowed that thought to develop before he added the logical implication. That station had an operator. Another person had survived. Despite the evidence of his eyes, there must be something left of Springfield, or maybe Hartford, that included a radio tower. The trip across the Vermont border ruled out Hartford as too far away for adequate reception. That left Springfield, which he could reach in about an hour if he turned around and hightailed it. If he decided he wanted to. He was halfway through concocting a search plan when the song ended. "Hi," said the radio. It was a female voice. He turned it up. His hand was trembling. "Hi," he said. His throat felt tight. Moisture nagged at the outer edges of his eyes. "You're still listening to Claudia. That was ‘Here Comes the Sun' by the Beatles. I'd like to take a moment to repeat my message for anyone listening who hasn't heard it yet. This is an open invitation for any survivors to meet me here in Chicago." Harrison missed the next bit, which was drowned out by the scream of his tires against the pavement and his own screams. The car started to spin. It almost started to roll when its momentum ran out. It stood balanced on the two driver's side wheels for what must have been far shorter time than it seemed before it flopped back down onto all four wheels with an unceremonious thud. "… further instructions. I'll be broadcasting until midnight, Eastern Daylight Time, for those of you still keeping track. Remember, come to Chicago. Tell your friends." Harrison identified the initial chords of a Fleetwood Mac song whose title he could not recall as he attempted to refocus himself.  His reflex to stomp on the brakes did not feel productive. "Chicago," he said, just to hear it out loud, "is a thousand miles away."

 

It's pretty difficult to read, isn't it? Now, let's put the paragraphs in:

 

He stopped singing. It would have been difficult to continue over the din of his heartbeat, anyway. Aware of safety concerns for the first time in a long while, he focused on the drive. A radio station existed and transmitted. He allowed that thought to develop before he added the logical implication. That station had an operator.

Another person had survived.

Despite the evidence of his eyes, there must be something left of Springfield, or maybe Hartford, that included a radio tower. The trip across the Vermont border ruled out Hartford as too far away for adequate reception. That left Springfield, which he could reach in about an hour if he turned around and hightailed it. If he decided he wanted to. He was halfway through concocting a search plan when the song ended.

"Hi," said the radio. It was a female voice.

He turned it up. His hand was trembling. "Hi," he said. His throat felt tight. Moisture nagged at the outer edges of his eyes.

"You're still listening to Claudia. That was ‘Here Comes the Sun' by the Beatles. I'd like to take a moment to repeat my message for anyone listening who hasn't heard it yet. This is an open invitation for any survivors to meet me here in Chicago."

Harrison missed the next bit, which was drowned out by the scream of his tires against the pavement and his own screams. The car started to spin. It almost started to roll when its momentum ran out. It stood balanced on the two driver's side wheels for what must have been far shorter time than it seemed before it flopped back down onto all four wheels with an unceremonious thud.

"… further instructions. I'll be broadcasting until midnight, Eastern Daylight Time, for those of you still keeping track. Remember, come to Chicago. Tell your friends."

Harrison identified the initial chords of a Fleetwood Mac song whose title he could not recall as he attempted to refocus himself.  His reflex to stomp on the brakes did not feel productive.

"Chicago," he said, just to hear it out loud, "is a thousand miles away."

 

This makes the text much, much easier to read. Notice how anytime there is a new person speaking, it is in a new paragraph. Notice also how he puts "Another person had survived" into its own paragraph to emphasize the point.

Paragraphs can be employed to stress certain words or phrases that you as the author want to make sure your reader sees. Readers are apt to miss sentences buried within long blocks of text.

 

This lesson was taken from my class an Introduction to Creative Writing.


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