Lesson One - Crafting the Paragraph

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Lesson One - Crafting the Paragraph

Status: Finished

Lesson One - Crafting the Paragraph

Article by: SolN

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Many beginner writers are not sure how to create paragraphs. But this skill is crucial to create a story that is easy to read.
 
 

Content Summary

Many beginner writers are not sure how to create paragraphs. But this skill is crucial to create a story that is easy to read.

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Submitted: June 17, 2015

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Submitted: June 17, 2015

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Introduction to Creative Writing

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.

 

Assignment #1:

Read the second excerpt from Static Mayhem below and break it up into paragraphs. Post the edited content to the class. To post, click the blue Post button on the front of the Group page. Post the assignment only to this class (you will be able to do this when it asks what groups/classes you want to publish it to).

 

Harrison wasn't quite sure what else to do, so he followed her last instruction. Mitchell was still asleep, curled up on the couch with a blanket draped over him. Harrison wondered if he had done that himself, or if Glimmer had somehow covered him as he slept. While he waited for her to do whatever she needed to do just then, he paced and tried to reorganize his thoughts. In a little over an hour, he and Mitchell would be raspberry jam, and Glimmer would be inconsolably pissed. Five minutes later, she came flitting back into the car. "Well," she said, "I was wrong about one thing. If we hit that door, I'm dead as a dishrag." Harrison was not sure what the appropriate response to that might be. "Where were you?" he tried. "Milwaukee," she said. "We have a problem." Harrison was stunned. "What? How fast can you fly?" "Pretty fast," she said. "Listen, if we can't get this worm thingy stopped, we are seriously screwed." Harrison felt a moment of head-rush vertigo. He raised his hands slightly to balance himself. "Wait," he said. "Are you telling me that you could have flown to Chicago any time—"She snapped her fingers in his face. It sounded like a rifle shot. "FOCUS! The tunnel is magicked up! This is a major problem!"  Harrison felt sweat building on his forehead. He imagined he was probably getting pale. "Magicked up? What the hell does that mean?" "I mean there's a spell in the tunnel, right in front of the door. You can see it shimmering. I'm pretty sure it's some variation on a shield curse, which pretty much means that if we make contact with it, we're toast. The worst part is, we won't even have to hit it all that hard." She was talking quickly, though with relative calm. "So the bottom line is we either need to find a way off this beast or find a way to stop it."

 

Assignment #2:

Go through an excerpt of your own writing and think about paragraphs. Did you group sentences the right way? Make some changes if you need to. Feel free to post some of your writing to the class for us take a look at.


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