Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Balancing Act of Paragraphing

A reader is a visual creature and judges a blog post, story or novel by its cover or how it looks at first glance. They want to know what’s in store for them before they read.

When you approach writing, you want to attract and entertain your readers. One step is an editing technique called paragraphing.

You know dense, never-ending paragraphs bore you to tears. The same goes for your readers. The solution? Varying your paragraph lengths. It not only avoids the dreaded half-a-page to page-length paragraphs, but the white space on the page gives your readers time to think, reflect and allow their imagination time to play. Invite them to interact with your writing.

The last thing you want to do is intimidate your reader with large sections of writing. Manageable chucks let your readers know they aren’t about to dive into an AP History textbook, but rather an enjoyable blog post or story.

How do you know when to start a new paragraph? Well, one red flag we’ve been learning since elementary school is when a new idea or thought begins. Help those great notions receive the attention they deserve in your readers mind by giving them their own paragraph.

Dialogue is another chance to break up a paragraph. Not to say you have to do it every time a character speaks. Just keep in mind the visual look of your story. It’s just as important as the words you’ve crafted.

When you experiment with the length of your paragraphs, you’ll find it evokes a particular emotion or experience in your reader. Shorter paragraphs create tension and move the story a long faster. Your reader is more engaged.

Longer paragraphs hypnotize your reader, coaxing them into your story. They take a leisurely walk with your characters. It gives you the chance to provide background or set them up for a surprise or shocking moment. And since the length of the paragraph gives them the illusion of safety, they can experience the moment along with the character. You strengthen the connection between your story and your reader. Now, they have to continue reading because they are feeling the same panic or excitement as the character in the story.

As always, you want to shoot for a balance between the frequencies of paragraphs. Use the length to create the rhythm of your blog post or story to mimic the characters emotions or to just keep your reader engaged. And remember, your reader is first and foremost a visual creature. Entice them to read your story without intimidation.

So, take a look at your current writing project. How much white space do you see? Do you have too many long paragraphs or too many short paragraphs? Can you improve a scene by paragraphing?  

P.S. Varying the length of your chapters can create the same effect as varying the length of your paragraphs.  

Browne, Renni and King, Dave. Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to edit yourself into print. Harper, 2004: New York.

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