Monday, March 26, 2012

MMWUC: What Do I Know About Paragraphs?

A friend lamented about the comments he received regarding the correct length of a paragraph. His were often the length of a scene. He queried: How do you know when to start a new one? When is a paragraph long enough? I tried to help, keeping the guidelines simple, disregarding attempts James Joycian or Faulknerish, or trying to tweak paragraphs to match new means of information dissemination (i.e., ebooks, phones, or mental probes). A new paragraph begins...

1. ...each time there's a new speaker in dialogue.

2. ...each new POV (Point of View).

3. ...each new thought (though many will string related thoughts together).

4. ...when there is a significant shift in action in the narrative.

5. the end of a significant string of related actions.

No firm rule dictates paragraph length. They can be a single word. Extending one beyond half a page would be a good benchmark to consider if you're going overboard with the paragraph. What are your best tips for my friend?

- - - EXAMPLE - - -


"Wait," barked Lassie.

"What's up, Lassie? What is it, boy?" Timmy asked.

Stupid human, Lassie thought. I'm a girl.

Stupid mutt. Timmy exhaled. Barks at anything.

"There's a rattlesnake behind that tree, you Moron," Lassie barked.

"Want to play fetch. Here, chase this stick. Stick!" Timmy threw the stick.

Lassie dashed after the irresistible piece of oak that a dozen squirrels, two possums, and one raccoon had used to mark their territories. She sniffed the delightful stick then picked it up. She turned around just in time to see Timmy lie down on the snake. The fangs sank into Timmy's arm through the flannel shirt.

Timmy screamed. Lassie barked. The stick fell to the forest floor. The snake slithered away. Lassie ran back to Timmy, bit him on the arm, and sucked out the poison as best she could.

A squirrel in a tree overhead chattered, "Dog!" All the squirrels in the area froze in place.

Timmy died from the snake bite. Dogs can't really suck anything. Lassie was put down, deemed a vicious dog. The squirrel became owl food. The snake ate the baby owlets. A smiling God watched on high from his orthopedic mattress set at 43 for firm comfort.

- - - END - - -
That's all I know about paragraphs. Go forth and write with confidence.

1 comment:

Edith Parzefall said...

Nice, concise explanation, Rick, and certainly the funniest example I've ever read in this context. :-)