Amateur Writing Tips: Paragraphs

I’m in a teaching mood today, so I have decided to share with you my thoughts on paragraph writing. And no, this sudden propensity for wisdom-dispensing has nothing to do with the fact that I have a project due and I don’t want to work on it. Stop judging me!

Paragraph Tip #1 — Long paragraph is loooooong

You know what’s super annoying to read? Really long paragraphs. I’ve picked up so many books that have paragraphs last a page or more, and when I see this, I can’t help but think, “Why? Why you do this?”

I’ll prove my point. Read the following paragraph:

They ran towards me, screaming that the building was going to collapse in mere minutes. I didn’t believe them. I knew for a fact that the donut library in the basement was built on extremely strong foundations that would stand up against even the harshest of earthquakes. Still, nothing is ever set in stone — well, except for the foundations of the donut library. Anyway, I decided that I should take the threat seriously, and considered my options. Flailing my arms and panicking seemed like a good choice. Then I remembered the sabre enthusiast club up on the fiftieth floor. They wouldn’t know about the evacuation. Someone had to help them. That someone, I decided, would be me. I raced for the elevator and hit the button. The doors slid open, and I stepped inside. When I reached the fiftieth floor, I emerged from the elevator and shouted for everyone to follow me down the ground floor. But I was ignored. Everyone was too busy swinging their sabres around to hear me. Desperate to get their attention, I seized a discarded sabre from the floor and leaped into the fray. Knocking aside sabres left and right, I bellowed for them to listen to me, to evacuate before they all perished. Finally, they listened. Like a mindless stampede they raced for the elevator, failing to understand that seventy people could not fit into a single elevator. “Don’t be fools!” I shouted, racing to cut them off before they started squishing each other to death. “We have time! Just wait your turn!” The herd calmed, and through my organizational efforts I managed to get them all safely down to the ground floor. As the last of the sabre enthusiasts tromped out the door, I realized that the building wasn’t collapsing. It wasn’t even shaking. All the panic had been for nothing. I shook my head at my own foolishness. Then I went down to the donut library and checked out a sprinkle donut and a chocolate glazed donut. They were delicious.

That was a stupidly long paragraph. If you managed to get all the way through it, then kudos. The only reason I got through it is because I wrote the darn thing.

In conclusion, keep your paragraphs short. Otherwise your readers will fall asleep and drool all over your book, and as everyone knows, drool stains are like crack for bookworms. And no one likes bookworms.

Paragraph Tip #2 — Conversation: you’re doing it wrong

In this tip, we explore the glorious phenomenon that is an entire conversation between two people taking place in a single paragraph. Because I like writing examples, here’s one to illustrate what I’m talking about:

“Yo yo, G-skillet,” said Mary. “What up dawg?” said John. “Not a whole lot, my homey,” said Mary. “I dunno ’bout you, but I got a mad urge to go do assorted activities that people of our demographic enjoy.” “Dude, me too! We’re like, totally hip.” “Yo, fo sho,” said Mary.

My inability to capture the authentic dialogue patterns of today’s urban youth aside, the main problem with that horrendous excuse for writing is the fact that two different people were talking in the same paragraph. Do you know who was saying what? No? Of course not. That’s because you always, always, always start a new paragraph when someone new speaks.

Let’s apply liberal use of the Enter key and see if we can’t fix up that conversation, shall we?

“Yo yo, G-skillet,” said Mary.

“What up dawg?” said John.

“Not a whole lot, my homey,” said Mary. “I dunno ’bout you, but I got a mad urge to go do assorted activities that people of our demographic enjoy.”

“Dude, me too! We’re like, totally hip.”

“Yo, fo sho,” said Mary.

See how much better that is? Now we know that it’s John, and not Mary, who thinks that they’re totally hip. If we do some mental stretching, we might even deduce that Mary is far more self-aware than she appears to be. In fact, Mary is actually a hipster journalist who has infiltrated a street gang in order to uncover their secrets and write a biting exposé on their daily doings.

Isn’t it amazing what we can discover when we break up our dialogue properly?

Paragraph Tip #3 — In Soviet Russia, Topic Stays On You

For those of you unfamiliar with the In Soviet Russia meme, I am somewhat ineptly attempting to explain that every individual paragraph should have one topic. One topic. Not two topics. Not seventeen bajillion topics. One.

To illustrate:

Of all graceful and magnificent creatures on this great green earth, poodles are truly the most extraordinary. One need only catch a glimpse of their lustrous curly locks as they prance through the grasslands to reach that one, sublime truth: that poodles are physical embodiments of joy. The labrador retriever is the most popular dog in the continental United States. With their fancy footwork and stylish haircuts, poodles cut a striking image wherever they go. Little girls squeal at their approach. Grown men pretend nonchalance whilst secretly wishing they could be as graceful as these canine marvels. Poodles are not just our salvation; they are a way of life.

Did you catch the off-topic sentence? That’s right, it was the sentence about the labrador retriever. This paragraph is about the majesty of poodlesdammit! If the labs want to be praised, they can find their own damn paragraph.

What do you think?

Got any more paragraph-writing tips? Disagree with mine? Agree that poodles are the most glorious creatures in the universe? Sound off in the comments!

Related media of the day:

Click here for more awesome poodle haircuts.

Unrelated media of the day:

Censor’s Warning: This video is awesome, but contains cursing and unsavoury language. Watch at your own risk.

Explanation of Humor: Juxtaposition is amusing.

Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 31 Comments

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31 thoughts on “Amateur Writing Tips: Paragraphs

  1. Long paragraphs are very annoying but even worse are those starting out with writing who apparently don’t know what one is. They just throw everything into one giant block of text and leave it to the reader to get it all sorted out… drives me batty.

    Also, good choice in unrelated media of the day. Lonely Island rocks.

    • Hahaha why do you think I wrote this post? I should make my next post about overly-long chapters. I once read a book where one chapter was literally the first third of the book. Ack.

      And yes, Lonely Island rocks. I wanted to link Threw It On The Ground, but I’m pretty sure there’s an abundance of curse words in that one. I’m On A Boat is right out.

  2. I loved it! Now that I’m not laughing so hard that I’m crying. I will go back and read it again to learn something. 😉

  3. Reblogged this on Mari Wells and commented:
    A few good tips for writers!

  4. While I usually practice good paragraph form, by keeping it to only one idea, I can go on about one idea for a long time–especially in my non-fiction writing, like my blog. And long paragraphs are a no-no on the internet. I’ve been trying to be better about breaking up my paragraphs so they’re not more than a few lines/sentences long. Even when a paragraph is about a single idea, I try to find a place where it can reasonably be broken in two.

    The last proofreading I did on my novel involved breaking down some paragraphs. And I think it was better for it.

    • Although some people take it too far. I’m sure everyone’s read that book, the one where practically every sentence is a new paragraph, and you feel out of breath when you read the book because everything seems to be moving so fast but it isn’t, it’s just the thousands of tiny paragraphs tricking you into thinking it is.

  5. Michael J. Akin

    I’m learning a lot about this thing called writing more and more everyday. So, the tip was curious the most about was the g-skillet tip. Not only because that’s my street name, but because I didn’t know that it was necessary to split up dialog between two or more characters that way. Can you explain more please.

    • Wassup G-skillet!

      Yeah, basically with that tip, you want to make sure that you start a new paragraph every time a new character says something. If you’ve got one character going on at length about something, you can keep it all in the same paragraph. But as soon as someone else speaks up, you need to start a new paragraph.

      That kind of ties in with Tip #3 — you should only have one topic per paragraph. Think of someone talking as a ‘topic’. So whenever they stop talking and the next person starts, that’s a new topic — hence a new paragraph.

      Hypothetically if the story was written in the first person, the narrator could be remembering a conversation between two people, and then you could have it all in one paragraph. But other than that, definitely split the dialogue up.

      Did that make sense? Lol. If not, let me know and I’ll try again 🙂

  6. Great post. I’m usually pretty good about all those, but it’s always good to be reminded.

    I hate long paragraphs–and long chapters.

    I think I’ll have to reblog this. It’s too awesome not to share.

  7. Lorraine Pearl

    Reblogged this on Lorraine Pearl.

  8. My paragraph writing tip: Use hieroglyphics. Text is so suburban!

    • Ooooh, daring. I see your tip and raise you mine: use binary. For example, here is Hamlet’s famous “To be or not to be”, written in the ever-popular binary:


  9. Hey, I’ve got an idea for a blog post for you, Michelle: how to get people to interact on your blog. You always have such fun comment sections.

    In fact, if you write it, would you like to guest post it on my blog?

  10. Ohhhhh my gosh. xD My favorite part was the bit about people of their demographic and what they like to do. I nearly died, it was so funny. 🙂 But I agree with them all! Something I tend to think of as very basic, but even the basics need re-posted once in awhile, because you never know who doesn’t know about them yet!

    • Exactly! It’s crazy how you can go through 12+ years of schooling and never be properly taught this sort of thing. And I’m glad you enjoyed that example, lol. It cracked me up when I wrote it, so I’m happy other people were amused too.

  11. wordsaremagic

    It’s OK for a paragraph to be just one sentence, or one word, if the writer wants to make a dramatic point or to bring a resounding end to a thought process or conversation.

  12. Love the video and yes, I agree, long paragraphs stink. I try to keep it lean and tight the best I can. I know if it doesn’t have a pace while I write it or read it then I get bored pretty easily. Nice post.

    • Thanks 🙂 When I see a super long paragraph, I kind of half-heartedly skim the first sentence and then skip down to the next paragraph and hope I didn’t miss anything, lol.

  13. I love one sentence paragraphs, and so did Flaubert. I find in writing specifically for e-readers, I’ve gotten in the habit of making my paragraphs shorter and shorter.

    One thing a beta-reader tagged me for doing was putting someone’s action (let’s say Bret) at the end of a paragraph (Bret waves hello), and then have Bret say something in the next paragraph (“Hi Michelle,” Bret said). It’s really just another example from Tip # 3 (one topic, one character). Not to say one character per paragraph will always make sense. As always–apply common sense.

    • Ahhh, common sense, my old arch-nemesis. And I definitely know what you’re talking about — I used to do that all the time, but I kicked the habit somewhere around my fifteenth revision of Imminent Danger. I probably have my mother to thank for that, lol. She’s a wise lady.

  14. It’s really a great and helpful piece of info.
    I’m glad that you simply shared this useful info with us.
    Please stay us informed like this. Thanks for sharing.

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