A Writer’s Guide to Paragraphs

So we’re going back to the basics today, because it’s come to my attention that a lot of people are confused about paragraphs.

That’s okay if you are. Paragraphs are tricky things, and it took me years to figure out how to make them work.

Part of the problem is the way they’re taught in schools. If your experience was anything like mine, you were sat down at a young age and informed that paragraphs are at least three sentences long.

You were given this arbitrary length for the sake of an assignment, little-to-no guidelines on how a larger paper is divided, and after that, the teachers all assumed you understood. You muddled through, guessing and hoping for the best–but you never felt sure of what you were doing. Then after a certain point, it seemed almost too late to ask.

If this is you, don’t worry. Paragraph breaks aren’t as random as they seem.

So as usual, we’ll get rolling with definitions. While ‘A cluster of more than 3 sentences’ is a fine guide for a kid writing a paper for school, there’s a bit more to it–especially when you start playing around with the creative side of things.

A better working definition is:

Paragraph: a cluster of sentences relevant to a similar topic and context

What does that mean? If a bunch of sentences are all about the same thing, they should be grouped together. It’s that simple.

It doesn’t really matter how long or short these paragraphs are, either. I’ve seen paragraphs as short as a single sentence, and then I’ve also seen paragraphs that go on for pages.

So as an example, I’ll pull an excerpt from Cataclysm and dissect it for you.

I held my breath as I snuck towards the enemy encampment. Navigating only by the soft glow of the stars and the flickering lights of the distant campfires I crept ever closer keeping my sword loosely grasped in my palm.
(This paragraph is about the main character’s action)

Despite myself, I was impressed. The chill of the night air, the arrhythmic chirping of crickets, the smoky odor of the camp, this was a reality in and of itself. On top of that, the graphics were amazing. No other game could compare.
(This one describes the setting)

The sentries remained oblivious to my presence as I took my position behind a handily placed bush. They never saw me. The dumb NPCs were practically blind unless you were four feet in front of them. Not that I was complaining, mind you.
(All of these lines are about the sentries)

Hmm… Should I attempt a direct assault, or would remaining stealthy prove wiser?
(And this one talks about tactics)

Each paragraph has a topic. When I change topic, I put in a paragraph break.

Not only does breaking up a text-wall make a piece easier on the eyes, but having everything all neatly grouped helps a writer organize and control the story. It’s easier to get the point across clearly when you’re only focusing on one topic at a time.

So yeah.

In Summary:

Paragraphs aren’t as arbitrary or mystifying as they might seem. They’re simply a way of grouping related sentences together.

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