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Paragraph Length Conundrum (1 Viewer)

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TheMightyAz

Mentor
I'm beginning to wonder if there's an actual writing term for this because it's so pronounced in my writing and I wondered if anyone else experiences it. If I allow myself to flow and don't think too deeply about what I'm about to write (and to a degree even if I do), I will inevitably write paragraphs between 4 - 6 lines long. Is this perhaps a psychological thing? Do I see the 4 - 6 lines as an indication this paragraph should be wrapped up? Am I the only one!?
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
The "standard" I was taught in school was 5-6 sentences or a couple hundred words, but these seem arbitrary numbers to me. A paragraph encompass an idea - so it's as long as it turns out to be... but with that said, readers sometimes find it difficult to wade through excessively long paragraphs; they get lost. So I think it's best to keep your ideas succinct and separate them so reading is like climbing stairs.

I'm the farthest thing from an authority though - that's only my opinion.
 

Cool Breeze

Senior Member
I also remember being taught in school the five to six lines per paragraph, but I've gone well over that in the numerous documents I've written over the years.

If you're talking about the same thing, and not introducing something new, the paragraph can be whatever length it needs to be.

I'm reading a book at the moment with regular paragraphs of up to twenty lines.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
The "standard" I was taught in school was 5-6 sentences or a couple hundred words, but these seem arbitrary numbers to me. A paragraph encompass an idea - so it's as long as it turns out to be... but with that said, readers sometimes find it difficult to wade through excessively long paragraphs; they get lost. So I think it's best to keep your ideas succinct and separate them so reading is like climbing stairs.

I'm the farthest thing from an authority though - that's only my opinion.

That's fascinating. I know I wasn't taught it directly but I'm wondering if I've picked it up subconsciously along the way. The reason I asked is because I recently went back to edit a section of my short story, took a 5 line paragraph, split it into two and then added detail to each, which left me with 2 5 lined paragraphs ... I then returned to the section I was writing, which consisted of 3 5 lined paragraphs in a row. Weird! They do get changed in the edit usually, to break that unfortunate rhythm (same with sentences) but it interested me.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
I also remember being taught in school the five to six lines per paragraph, but I've gone well over that in the numerous documents I've written over the years.

If you're talking about the same thing, and not introducing something new, the paragraph can be whatever length it needs to be.

I'm reading a book at the moment with regular paragraphs of up to twenty lines.

Yeah, you can write paragraphs much longer (Charles Dickens) or much shorter (Dean Koontz) but I think it's best to keep them smaller chunks in general. In this era of easily digestible newspaper bites, it can be quite daunting to see a huge chunk of verbiage.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
I'm beginning to wonder if there's an actual writing term for this because it's so pronounced in my writing and I wondered if anyone else experiences it. If I allow myself to flow and don't think too deeply about what I'm about to write (and to a degree even if I do), I will inevitably write paragraphs between 4 - 6 lines long. Is this perhaps a psychological thing? Do I see the 4 - 6 lines as an indication this paragraph should be wrapped up? Am I the only one!?

It's really a matter of feel, isn't it? If I tried to explain technically how I break to the next paragraph, I might confuse my ability to do it ever again. LOL If I notice a paragraph is getting longer than average, I often find a natural break I wrote through. Doing an informal check of my current chapter, I'm normally at about 5 to 6 lines with 10-15 words per line ... with software our line length depends on how wide we've made our window. I'm finding approximately 75-125 words per paragraph. Of course, the odd paragraph may be a good bit shorter or longer. If I want something to stand out, I may have it in a one sentence paragraph.
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
This is a cool question because I think it reveals some of the inner workings of the craft and of the story. When the question of paragraph length occurred to me I had long since forgotten what I had learned in English class and instead started comparing books that I had on hand.

In Dick Francis novels the author mainly uses short paragraphs in his tense page-turner mysteries.

Lord of the Rings is a different gear entirely. Immersive in the world of Middle-Earth there are often longer paragraphs, like an invitation to stop and see what is being described. The pace of the story slows so that you can really look (as the characters often are) at the epic places being described.

So in my mind paragraph length and story pacing have a lot to do with each other. There is a connection between how long the reader takes to read and the perceived lapse of time within the story.

When I'm working with very few words (say flash fiction) sometimes it's a struggle to shave the word counts and keep the pacing right. Sometimes even putting a dialogue tag into the middle of a one-line paragraph can slow it just enough to feel like the right amount of moments have gone by.

Anyway, that's how I think about this.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
It's really a matter of feel, isn't it? If I tried to explain technically how I break to the next paragraph, I might confuse my ability to do it ever again. LOL If I notice a paragraph is getting longer than average, I often find a natural break I wrote through. Doing an informal check of my current chapter, I'm normally at about 5 to 6 lines with 10-15 words per line ... with software our line length depends on how wide we've made our window. I'm finding approximately 75-125 words per paragraph. Of course, the odd paragraph may be a good bit shorter or longer. If I want something to stand out, I may have it in a one sentence paragraph.

That's pretty much what I do, yeah. I also like to end each paragraph (story permitted) as if each is a mini event. It's funny because there have been a few people who thought my story had ended because of it. lol. I now put 'not finished' every time I post. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I kinda like it.
 

TheMightyAz

Mentor
This is a cool question because I think it reveals some of the inner workings of the craft and of the story. When the question of paragraph length occurred to me I had long since forgotten what I had learned in English class and instead started comparing books that I had on hand.

In Dick Francis novels the author mainly uses short paragraphs in his tense page-turner mysteries.

Lord of the Rings is a different gear entirely. Immersive in the world of Middle-Earth there are often longer paragraphs, like an invitation to stop and see what is being described. The pace of the story slows so that you can really look (as the characters often are) at the epic places being described.

So in my mind paragraph length and story pacing have a lot to do with each other. There is a connection between how long the reader takes to read and the perceived lapse of time within the story.

When I'm working with very few words (say flash fiction) sometimes it's a struggle to shave the word counts and keep the pacing right. Sometimes even putting a dialogue tag into the middle of a one-line paragraph can slow it just enough to feel like the right amount of moments have gone by.

Anyway, that's how I think about this.

Heck, yeah. It's something I'm focusing on right now actually. I tried to inject some 60s music into a scene and was reading the section over and over again to get a feel for whether the music would be still playing. lol. I took it out in the end though. Too much faffing for me. :)
 

Foxee

Patron
Patron
That's pretty much what I do, yeah. I also like to end each paragraph (story permitted) as if each is a mini event. It's funny because there have been a few people who thought my story had ended because of it. lol. I now put 'not finished' every time I post. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing, I kinda like it.
Sure would be easier to write the ending that way!
Heck, yeah. It's something I'm focusing on right now actually. I tried to inject some 60s music into a scene and was reading the section over and over again to get a feel for whether the music would be still playing. lol. I took it out in the end though. Too much faffing for me. :)
Sounds like one of those things that would be a little hard to cut. :)
 

Terry D

Retired Supervisor
That's fascinating. I know I wasn't taught it directly but I'm wondering if I've picked it up subconsciously along the way. The reason I asked is because I recently went back to edit a section of my short story, took a 5 line paragraph, split it into two and then added detail to each, which left me with 2 5 lined paragraphs ... I then returned to the section I was writing, which consisted of 3 5 lined paragraphs in a row. Weird! They do get changed in the edit usually, to break that unfortunate rhythm (same with sentences) but it interested me.

Paragraphs set the rhythm of a story -- this isn't news to anyone who's been around this gig long, of course -- and I think each writer's individual style is heavily influenced by what they've read and by the styles of the writers who they enjoyed. We will naturally emulate the styles and pacing which reverberate with us. Paragraph length is also determined by the tone and voice we are using for any given piece; or at least I think it should be. I think very little about the length and sentence count of the paragraphs in my work, but I am constantly weighing the pace, and judging the rhythm of the prose. My paragraph length varies based on those considerations.
 

Llyralen

Senior Member
I think you guys might know this about me already, but you can’t know the full extent. I will put an “and” where a paragraph break should be. I write my replies to you guys and it’s all a brick wall when I thought I was going to be short, and then I edit and go back and take out “ands” and try to sort through to where a paragraph should be. This is done with much love and a bit of embarrassment... because otherwise it’s a lot of work. An audience is a lot of work! You’re all an exhausting amount of paragraph-seeking work. You’re welcome. I know it’s good for me too.

I expected to come here and find out you all do the same. Drat! Ahh well...
 

JBF

Staff member
Global Moderator
Less an issue of construct and more whether or not the paragraph functions as its supposed to, I think. If it holds together and imparts the point as was intended it's fine.

Then again, in the interest of disclosure one of my favorite books contains a paragraph of some 240-ish words. Incidentally, all of them are strung into one sentence. By any law of man, literature, or heaven this probably shouldn't work...but it does.
 
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