Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Paragraphs

Do you have trouble with 'paragraphing'? Here's my little take on it, it just might be of use to you as well. And if I'm using the wrong method then please correct me!


Aspiring author


I've been active on Royal Road and Wattpad as an aspiring author. Frankly, I'm just looking for feedback and proofreaders, mostly because I'm a non-native English speaker (I'm Dutch) and I need all the help I can get 😁

In exchange, I review some other people's work. Some of that is very good, and most of the time it is better than mine.

But there's one thing that I noticed with online writers, and that is that many have troubles with 'paragraphing'.

I hope the following simple rules may be of some help.


Book versus screen


(e)Books

In books, you'll typically find indents, empty lines, and separators. Like this:


Chapter 1

      Bla bla bla bla. This is a normal paragraph. Bla bla bla. Person 1 talks. Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla bla. Bla bla.
      Now person 2 talks.
      Now person 1 and person 2 are doing things. More bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla. Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla bla. Bla bla.
      Many things are happening. Long background exposition. Horrible info dump. More bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla. Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla bla. Bla bla. More bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla. Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla bla. Bla bla. More bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla. Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla bla. Bla bla.

      The empty line above indicates a separation between two paragraphs. There could be a minor scene change, or the author has inserted a shocking moment. More bla. More bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla. Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla bla. Bla bla. More bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla. Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla bla. Bla bla.

                  * * *

      Major scene changes within a chapter are often indicated by special symbols. Three dashes, three stars, special characters. Bla bla bla. Bla bla. More bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla. Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla bla. Bla bla.


Online

Many online platforms 'manhandle' your nice formatting, so you'll typically end up with a format where you drop the indent in exchange for empty lines. Unfortunately, that means minor scene changes are often lost. (Some people will argue that minor scene changes are irrelevant anyway.)

Removing the indents and adding empty lines makes reading on smaller screens often easier, so it's no surprise this is a common format.

The text above would look like this on many online platforms:


Chapter 1

Bla bla bla bla. This is a normal paragraph. Bla bla bla. Person 1 talks. Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla bla. Bla bla.

Now person 2 talks.
 
Now person 1 and person 2 are doing things. More bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla. Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla bla. Bla bla.
 
Many things are happening. Long background exposition. Horrible info dump. More bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla. Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla bla. Bla bla. More bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla. Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla bla. Bla bla. More bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla. Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla bla. Bla bla.

Unfortunately, that minor scene change from the book is completely lost. More bla. More bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla. Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla bla. Bla bla. More bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla. Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla bla. Bla bla.

                  * * *

Major scene changes within a chapter can still be easily shown. Three dashes, three stars, special characters. Don't use these kind of seperation indicators for minor scene changes. That's annoying. Or so I think :-) Bla bla bla. Bla bla. More bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla. Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. Bla bla bla. Bla bla.


Conversion


You can always use a wordprocessor to change one form to another. Word, Libreoffice, Google Docs. They can all do that for you.


Paragraphing


Now with that out of the way, let's focus on some common issues. Many online stories feel 'unfocussed', 'staccato', and readers quickly lose track of who's saying what, or who is doing what, caused by incorrect paragraphing. I use the following rules to fix these.


Rules

Let's apply the following rules:


1. A paragraph belongs to a single person, if that person speaks or thinks.

2. Paragraphs are greedy. If the first line after a paragraph is about that same person doing or saying something, then that line belongs to the same paragraph.

3. If another person does or says something, it's a new paragraph.

4. A paragraph can belong to multiple persons if they interact in some way.


Bad

First an example of how NOT to do it. (Yeah, very silly text, but I was too tired to come up with something smarter.)


In the background, Laura Branigan's 'Self Control' starts playing.

William empties his mouth.

"Lemon cheesecake caramel with peanut butter!" he exclaims.

"There's no accounting for taste," Aaron comments, looking for his second banana.

He successfully spears it, presents it to the world, then takes a large bite and swallows.

With his eyes half-closed he mumbles, "Ah... Bliss... Man, we missed you."

William nods.

"Yep. That, and the free lunches."

"You're impossible, the two of you. All of you." Camelia comments.

Lug just smiles.

Mario puts on a new track.
 
Aaron opens his eyes in exaggerated shock, then gets halfway up, mock offended.

"My brother is impossible, let me apologize on his behalf. And, as his eclectic selection in ice cream and friends prove time and time again, he has no taste either."

He grins and makes a mock bow in first David's, then Camelia's direction, making absolutely sure we all pay attention when he turns to me and bows more deeply.

"Except when it comes to girls," he adds in a stage whisper.


Better

Same text, one more time, using the rules above:


In the background, Laura Branigan's 'Self Control' starts playing.

William empties his mouth. "Lemon cheesecake caramel with peanut butter!" he exclaims.

"There's no accounting for taste," Aaron comments, looking for his second banana. He successfully spears it, presents it to the world, then takes a large bite and swallows. With his eyes half-closed he mumbles, "Ah... Bliss... Man, we missed you."

William nods. "Yep. That, and the free lunches."

"You're impossible, the two of you. All of you." Camelia comments.

Lug just smiles. Mario puts on a new track.

Aaron opens his eyes in exaggerated shock, then gets halfway up, mock offended. "My brother is impossible, let me apologize on his behalf. And, as his eclectic selection in ice cream and friends prove time and time again, he has no taste either." He grins and makes a mock bow in first David's, then Camelia's direction, making absolutely sure we all pay attention when he turns to me and bows more deeply. "Except when it comes to girls," he adds in a stage whisper.


Book

Once more, as we would probably see it in printed form (I can only dream 😊)


      In the background, Laura Branigan's 'Self Control' starts playing.
      William empties his mouth. "Lemon cheesecake caramel with peanut butter!" he exclaims.
      "There's no accounting for taste," Aaron comments, looking for his second banana. He successfully spears it, presents it to the world, then takes a large bite and swallows. With his eyes half-closed he mumbles, "Ah... Bliss... Man, we missed you."
      William nods. "Yep. That, and the free lunches."
      "You're impossible, the two of you. All of you." Camelia comments.
      Lug just smiles. Mario puts on a new track.
      Aaron opens his eyes in exaggerated shock, then gets halfway up, mock offended. "My brother is impossible, let me apologize on his behalf. And, as his eclectic selection in ice cream and friends prove time and time again, he has no taste either." He grins and makes a mock bow in first David's, then Camelia's direction, making absolutely sure we all pay attention when he turns to me and bows more deeply. "Except when it comes to girls," he adds in a stage whisper.


Exceptions

There's nothing wrong with breaking up paragraphs when they become too long, as long as it is clear who does what or who says what.

Sometimes it makes sense to break out a single line or word for emotional impact. But just like with everything else: don't overdo it.

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