Writing – Paragraphs

Why do I write my story into paragraphs?

In order to ensure your story makes more sense to readers. Each paragraph represents a unit of focus in each scene. It is quite possible to lump any length of sentences into paragraphs, but why should you do this when the paragraphs can act like a helpful guide organising your text, making it readable and to flow logically from one paragraph to the next. The process of refining paragraphs helps prepare a draft for publishing.

When do I write paragraphs?

If you’re writing a story it is standard practice to arrange your story into paragraphs, but this doesn’t mean you need to do this while you’re writing your first draft. If you’re struggling to get words down you should prioritise getting the words down, and not worry about paragraphs. However, writing paragraphs is something you certainly need to do at some point after you’ve written your first draft, and why not prioritise it as a task to do when you return to your draft.

I find that it’s one of the key areas to look at to organise my writing. A first draft often is a disorganised muddle, and improving your paragraphs properly forms a good general basis for improving your sentences and even your scenes. Make the writing in each sentence, paragraph, and scene count and you’re well on your way to a greater understanding of your story.

 How do you write a paragraph?

There are numerous guides, many of which are authoritative, on how to construct a paragraph. Some people suggest reading books critically, not just for pleasure. This may work for you, but it has not often worked for me – it takes the enjoyment out of my reading. That being said, I have learnt some techniques from books, such as point of view, story grids, and the essentials of grammar and punctuation. I suppose in the end it’s how you enjoy learning that will help you construct better paragraphs.

In my case, practice writing paragraphs of my latest fantasy story helped me. I took real joy in rewriting parts of it. To do this first you need some words to play around with, so I suggest having written a first draft of a story or short story so that you have topics to help you focus your paragraph. You may not even know what the topics are, even though you’ve either defined them in your first draft or come close to finding the ones you really want. ‘Focus’ and ‘topic’ really are keywords when we’re talking about paragraph construction.

First, you do need to decide on the paragraph topic. This decision is crucial. If you’ve already written text, then try to see which topic the paragraph currently is or which you want it to change to. To do this you may end up rearranging some sentences and paragraphs or rewriting other parts; it can be intensive work. Sometimes the paragraph topic needs to be spelt out to the reader in an appropriate way or made clearer and easier to understand, or else you find your new topics more difficult to absorb until half way into the paragraph, where you may understand fragments. It’s likely you will have read books like this. I know I have.

The focus part comes in when you need your sentences to align with the paragraph topic, to get its point across and expand on it. It’s very much like an essay where you deliver your arguments, or ‘case’ for writing that paragraph in the first place. With a fantasy story you’re adding depth and meaning to the topic, giving it that three-dimensional sensory reality that places the reader in the present. If you don’t know why you wrote that paragraph or why the sentences are littered beneath or around the topic, it’s possible many discerning readers won’t know why you bothered to write it either; if we’re looking at a paragraph as a single unit of composition. Paragraphs that aren’t as well defined or organised generally are more difficult to understand.

Exercise good judgment with your sentences

When I first starting drafting stories, I would arrange my words into paragraphs based on personal preference, as was my right as a writer, but I had poor understanding and judgement of which sentences should form each paragraph. Sentences are often the problem areas when we’re looking at bad paragraph construction because sentences all have their own focus and significance in the greater whole of the story like mini meanings.

There are many types of sentences within a paragraph. There are those which introduce a new topic, describe something, give extra details, show point of view; expand on the main topic, problem, or train of thought. Some sentences describe character thoughts, sensory perceptions of the environment, or conflict/interaction. Identifying these types of sentences is important, but not essential.

In practice, it can be difficult to know which sentences to keep, reword, or cut to improve paragraph focus; and adding sentences often becomes necessary to keep the topic or elaborate on it. Follow your instincts when deciding which sentences add value and enhance the focus of the topic, and which add inessential or irrelevant information. Before passing your story onto a professional or expert reader you must exercise good judgement and do the best you can with your sentences and paragraphs!