Your Second Draft: Paragraphing

Now that #NaNoWriMo 2014 is over, many authors, including myself will be scratching our collective heads in the #editing phase of bringing our works to market.


Journal Entry by Joel Montes De Oca used under CC License

What you should look for in your first glance at your manuscript is spelling, grammar, punctuation, and paragraphing. The first three, spelling, grammar, and punctuation are obvious enough, but you’re going to have brush up on their rules.

If I were to go into every rule for those three concerns, then this would be a book rather than a blog post. Try to obtain a copy of the Harbrace College Handbook, or if you’re in a pinch check out the Ask a Grammar Guru page on Facebook.

In the end, paragraphing seems to perplex quite a few #authors out there. After all, your paragraph can be spelled and punctuated properly and yet be considered wrong.

As far as the mechanics go, the general consensus out there for proper paragraphing is as follows…

When the speaker-tag changes, then a new paragraph is needed. If done right, then you can actually avoid the over-use of tags.

The action of one character causes a reaction from another character. The action-reaction dynamic needs to have its own separate paragraphs.


A Crumpled Paper Ball by Turinboy used under CC License

A character can only think, say, or do something. Therefore, keep it all in the family in the same paragraph. However, this can lead to paragraphs that are just too long.

Keep the length of a paragraph to five or six lines. If your character says and does a lot, then keep any internal dialog separate in order to avoid a lengthy paragraph.

You can go as far as half a page in one paragraph, if your intention is to slow down the pace.

Did you find this helpful? Did I forget to address something?

9 thoughts on “Your Second Draft: Paragraphing

  1. When I write non-fiction, I use short paragraphs, usually one to four sentences long. I think it’s a combination of narrow columns for the written word and the attention span of the reader (long paragraphs look cumbersome and intimidating).

    I think we have more freedom with fiction where paragraphs can be the length they need to be. But of course, even my eyes baulk when I see a page that contains only two or three paragraphs. So, yeah, I don’t let them get too long either.

    At the moment, I’m teaching my home-schooled grader six student about making proper paragraphs. He wants to write an entire story using just one. Sigh.


  2. I recently adjusted the paragraphing in my current WIP. A friend read through it and pointed out some key lines that would be stronger if they were set on their own. So I added some white space.

    Big blocks of text usually make my eyes cross, plus slows down the pacing. Great thought on how to improve on writing.


  3. I always prefer short paragraphs- they make for speedzone reading and give momentum to text.
    I am not a big fan of inverted comma rule, to be used for every sequential paragraph spoken by same narrator. But unfortunately, grammar demands it!
    Any way to bypass it?


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