Let’s talk about the one simple thing about story writing that almost no one talks about: dividing your paragraphs. The most crucial question in my mind that almost made me go mad with confusion was dividing my paragraph. When I set out to write for the very first time, I was stressing out about my paragraphs.
‘Should the paragraphs be long or short?’ ‘How much is too long?’ ‘How much is too short?’ ‘Where should I divide my story/ my writing?’
All these questions had no answers and I was more often than not driven to confusion and plain chaos. So, let me talk about the one thing almost no one talks about: “Where, Why and How to Divide Your Paragraphs when Writing a Story”
Why to include Paragraph Divisions:
• To interest the reader
• To make your writing readable
• To set the pace and the tone of your writing
As writers, we need to avoid an unpleasant mess that silently creeps into our stories: The Wall of Text.
What is ‘The Wall of Text’?
According to YourDictionary, it is ‘A large and intimidating piece of writing, particularly one with few or no paragraph breaks.’ (https://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=wall%20of%20text&=true&defid=3595878)
This Wall of Text makes your writing extremely hard to read. And your readers will lose interest in your story. To keep away the Wall of text, you need to divide your story into neat, readable paragraphs.
When to include:
• At the start of a dialogue.
• At the start of a new action
• When the focus shifts from one character to the other
• When introducing a new set of events
At the Start of a Dialogue:
One of the most essential and crucial components of a story is its dialogue. The dialogue of a character gives depth and personality to the character. The way your character speaks says a lot about their personality. No two characters speak the same way. If they do speak the same way in your story, make sure that they don’t. It would make your story monotonous and boring.
Introducing a paragraph break between dialogues is just as important. For example, imagine if a conversation from my story ‘Mum’s the Word’ (from Savoury Tales), is written this way:
‘“You could go to jail for a good many years if I charge you for obstruction of justice.” He said smoothly, making my hair stand on their ends. “What do you want?” I asked, finally fed-up. “The truth. How did you kill them?” “I didn’t.” “Then who did?”’
It gets confusing without the break, the division, between the dialogues. We cannot understand who is saying what. And we cannot understand the manner of the conversation. Instead, consider this:
“You could go to jail for a good many years if I charge you for obstruction of justice.” He said smoothly, making my hair stand on their ends.
”What do you want?” I asked, finally fed-up.
“The truth. How did you kill them?”
“Then who did?”’
This way, by breaking the start of a new dialogue into a new paragraph, I have set the pace and the tone of the conversation.
At the Start of a New Action:
The start of a new action doesn’t necessarily have to be a very huge, drama induced action. It can be as simple as someone cooking and moving with the pace of the conversation. Or someone doing something and shifting their course of action. For example, in ‘Saved from Death’ (from Savoury Tales), a paragraph ends with the action:
‘With nothing else to do, Tess picked up the gift to unwrap it.’
Tess, the main character of my story, decides to unwrap a gift. I break the current paragraph and start the next one with her new course of action:
‘She was just about to unwrap it when words formed on her side of the window.’
Her new course of action is unwrapping a gift that she had been given. Of course, she doesn’t get to open it immediately. But that’s the rest of the story.
When The Focus Shifts from One Character to the Next:
Sometimes, the paragraph might be too long. It could be because of an absence of dialogue for a long time. Or it could also be because of no new action taking place. If there are two (or more characters) present in the scene, then you can break the paragraph when you change your focus from one character to next. For example, if you are talking about a character, Abhinav, and you are describing his gloomy mood, you break the paragraph when you talk about his friend, Gokul’s cheery mood.
Or you could be talking about a vampire’s usual Friday night and divide the paragraph when the focus shifts to his companion, who seems bored with the former’s idea of fun.
When Introducing a New Set of Events:
A story is a sequence of events or incidents that happen one after the other. A short story is a narration of one specific event or incident from your character’s life. The chain of events is basically you explaining how everything happened. It is just another string of events put together. So, you can break your paragraph When you are done talking about one event and want to talk about (move on to) another event. For example, in my story ‘The Doll of Death’ (from Savoury Tales), I talk about Blake’s child, Claire and about the doll she always has with her. I end the paragraph by describing the doll:
“A stuffed one with short straight black hair, a white cap on her head and a pretty red dress on her.”
I then decide that I’m done talking about that chain of events (about Claire and how she came to South America) and move on to talk about the next event. I start my next paragraph by starting the next event:
“At night, the witch came out of her cottage. She took in the cool night air for the first time in 2 years.”
These are just a few basic ways in which you can divide your paragraphs. There are no actual rules to writing. In the end, ultimately, it’s your story, your piece of fiction and your writing. So, you decide the rules for your own creation. These are just a few pointers, a few helpful tips, for writers who are confused about paragraph division.
Important Points to Remember:
• Paragraph breaks are a part of the editing process.
• Do not indulge and obsess over their accuracy while writing the story.
• When editing the story (after you’ve done writing) do refer to this basic ‘When to use Paragraph breaks’ blog.
Have fun writing.
Leave your opinion in the comment box below.
Savoury Tales by Aasiya Maryam: also available on Kindle.