Writing Tip Tuesdays Chapter 1: Paragraphs
Greetings everyone and welcome to the first installation of Writing Tip Tuesdays! I finally figured out my topic: paragraphs. One of my personal pet peeves is when people don’t use paragraphs correctly. Anyone else? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve clicked on a story and immediately clicked back because there were more words on the page than light space around them. I’ve attempted to read some of these stories, and I always wind up crossed-eyed with a giant headache. Yeah, not happening. So, how are paragraphs supposed to be used?
(Thank you, dictionary.com!)
A paragraph is basically a chunk of writing revolving around the same idea. So if I wrote some information about bugs, but then I switched to talking about mammals, I’d make a new paragraph. Or if I wrote about the feeding habits of different bugs, but then switched to talking about their lifespan, I’d make a new paragraph. In prose especially, this is extremely important. I should never read something that jumps from one topic to another without a little white space in between.
Another thing people seem to mess up a lot is paragraphing while writing dialogue. Because no one wants to read something that looks like this: “Hey, Stacy, how are you doing today?” Pete asked. “I’m doing fine, Pete.” “Good. Have you seen Olivia?”
Yeah . . . no. Big no.
When writing dialogue, you need to start a new paragraph every time someone new starts speaking.
“Hey, Stacy, how are you today?” Pete asked.
“I’m doing fine, Pete.”
“Good. Have you seen Olivia?”
Ah, so much better, isn’t it? By the way, this applies to gestures too. If you want to say that Stacy smiled while talking to Pete or Pete waved his hand around, you put it with their dialogue the same way. I’ve seen writing that looks like this:
“Today I went golfing,” Bob said, “and it was so much fun!” Aaron smiled.
“I bet!” he said.
That is also a no. “Aaron smiled”—a gesture—is part of Aaron’s dialogue . . . not Bob’s.
“Today I went golfing,” Bob said, “and it was so much fun!”
Aaron smiled. “I bet!” he said.
Dialogue and gestures are another topic for another time, so I’ll address them in detail sometime in the future. However, it’s important for paragraphs as well.
Now, that all being said, I have read stories (“The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, for instance) where the dialogue was not put onto a new paragraph. However, there was little actual dialogue in the story, and it was broken up well enough that you could still figure out who was talking. There are very few cases when this actually works; don’t assume your story is one.
The reason paragraphing is so important is because, for some reason, our eyes like the white space of a page. When we look at a gigantic wall of text, our brains go, “Holy cow! That’s way too much. I’m not wasting my time on this.” But with proper paragraphing, writers are able to trick their readers’ brains into thinking it’s less than it is. “Huh, there’s not too much text here. This isn’t so bad.” Then they start reading, and get so engrossed in your story that they don’t care how much text there is.
Of course, starting a new paragraph every sentence doesn’t work so well either. Unless you’re writing, say, a horror story and want to make it seem jumpy and tense, hitting the enter key after every period can be just as annoying as never hitting it at all.
He raced down the hall.
He looked out the window.
He saw his dad pull into the driveway.
He wished the author would stop breaking up his actions like this.
Paragraphs are something we learn in elementary school. They’re used to provide a concise, easy-to-read way to learn information. As soon as you see that a new paragraph has started, you know the author will talk about something else. The story is moving on. Dialogue is easier to read. You know someone else is speaking. Your brain sighs with relief at the white space. In essence, paragraphs are important—and not only that, they are completely necessary. Don’t assume they’re optional, because—except for perhaps a few select cases—they’re really not.
Check out how I use paragraphs in this post. Imagine if there were no paragraphs at all. Pretty headache-inducing, right? I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t have the time or energy to scale The Great Wall of Text . . . no matter how good the story is.
Thanks for checking out this first installment of Writing Tip Tuesdays! I hope you guys learned something new. If anyone wants me to talk about a certain aspect of grammar or storytelling, just tell me in the comments and I’ll see what I can do. See you all next Tuesday!