Published: Aug 2, 2016 12:00:00 PM

wall-of-text-2.jpegAt some point in your life, you likely had an English teacher at with strong opinions about structure. Grammatical structure. Sentence structure. They likely slapped a palm on the board at the front of the class to emphasize the point: this is how you do it!

That poor teach was being paid so little money.

You can read up on Ghost Little's two exquisite guides on writing shot sentences. With that debate dead and laid in a tasteful burial, let's examine the next structural piece: paragraph length.

A paragraph's length is a structural tool, like punctuation or the words chosen.

William Faulkner was not an idiot. He didn't win a Nobel Prize for Jagging Around. He won it for Literature.

Faulkner often wrote in gigantic, thick, endlessly spiraling sentences and paragraphs. His southern gothic saga Abasalom, Absalom! houses a sentence over 1000 words long. You would need a tremendous paragraph to contain such mad, stream of consciousness writing. Therein lies the guiding star.

A paragraph's length, like a sentence's length, needs to be exactly as long as it has to be to do it's work. It's an ever-exapnding and ever-telescoping tool to do whatever job needs to be done.

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Do you need a massive paragraph to convey a weighty thought to the reader? Use a wall of text. There's no rule that says you can't.

Pursuant to the point, short paragraphs accomplish a task, too. You can write a one or two sentence paragraph with well-structured sentences, sealing off the thought at both ends. After finishing the paragraph, the reader has a clear understanding. They understand that idea is done for now, on to the next.

Some editors will tell you short sentences are a cheap trick. That they're manipulative. That high-level writing is about making a a square-peg idea fit into a round-hole construct.

To use a technique like a short paragraph is effective, yes, but inappropriate outside of a newspaper format.

This isn't true. You have access to any technique at any time to execute a thought-transferrance to a reader. Techniques can still be misused or not executed perfectly, and that's on you, the writer, to assure the tool fits the job.

Good luck!

-- Alex Crumb
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Tagged topics in this post: storytelling analysis, how to write

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