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Paragraph Paradigm: How to Separate Your Paragraphs?

When I read, years ago, the book, Frankenstein of Mary Shelley for the first time, I found it very difficult to navigate through pages due to her packed paragraph structure. Ms Mary Shelley is font of creating paragraphs, which sometimes fall in two or three pages. Later I also read James Patterson novels, whose specialty is one or two sentence long paragraphs. I thought there should be a clarification on how to craft good paragraphs. So, here is the post on that.

A good paragraph has such features as:

Coherence
Relevance
Topic-Centricity
Simplicity


A general paragraph that follows these rules may or may not be long. There is no rule of specified length for a paragraph. It can be as long and tedious as those of Ms Shelley or as small as those of Mr Patterson.

What matters the most is the content within the paragraph. The content of one paragraph should not overlap with that of another. Which means, the paragraphs should be centered on the topic (subtopic). Look at the following:

Black Caiman is a reptile of the crocodile genus. It is a huge, slow-moving creature of usually five feet in length. The largest black caiman weighed more than a ton. The black caiman are found mainly in the South American Savannas. The diet of the caimans include fish like Piranha.

They also feed on turtles, other small reptiles, and certain birds. The main enemies of the black caiman are anacondas and jaguars. There are instances of huge anacondas feeding on caimans.

This piece is a very bad example of paragraph splitting. The first paragraph ends with the reference to the diet of caimans, while the second paragraph actually resumes it and in the very next sentence, launches into quite a different topic—that of the enemies of caimans.

Find your topics, and split the paragraphs exactly at those parts.

Also, make sure you don’t exaggerate paragraphs. Smaller paragraphs are always good. However, too small ones as written by Mr Patterson are a letdown for me. Your paragraphs should at least be four lines/sentences long.

I don’t suggest you to expand a topic with one or two sentences more in order to get the size of the paragraph right. Write what should go into the paragraph and create new paragraph when a new topic is to be addressed.

Fiction Special

Within fiction, you have to create a paragraph for each dialog exchange. The dialog by one character should be included into one paragraph. When the second character talks, it is included as a separate paragraph, no matter what the length may be. Look at this:
Tom said, “I found him.”

“Where?” Jim asked.

“At the backyard.”

“What’s he doing?”

“Singing”

“Singing? You mean, he is singing for no reason at the backyard?”

“That’s right.”

“Arrrrggggghhh!” Shouted Jim.

Each piece of dialog is a paragraph. You will see this in all mainstream fiction work. The narration should be split as a normal nonfiction work would be.

Copyright © Lenin Nair 2008

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