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Re: action scenes (paragraphs) : FAQs • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

Re: action scenes (paragraphs)

Frequently asked questions. Go HERE and read the first thread.
Roonerspism
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Re: action scenes (paragraphs)

Postby Roonerspism » Sun Oct 05, 2014 5:21 am

G'day ladies and gentlemen. I come to you today in the hopes that you'll be able to clear up a matter that's been doing my head in for some time: how to know when to start a new paragraph when writing action scenes. I realize that it's probably a subjective thing, but any guidelines you could give me would be much appreciated.

Right, so, let me tell you what I know already (or at least, what I think I know) about the topic of paragraphs as applied to creative writing. I know that a new paragraph must be started when the speaker changes, or when the topic of description changes. That's not a problem. The problem is that most resources I've been able to find also recommend that a new paragraph be started whenever a new "actor" (person or thing performing an action. I don't know if that's the correct term, but whatever) does something. Why is this a problem? Because I've read numerous books that seem to have violated this rule.

Here's an example of this violation in action (heh), taken from Jonathan Stroud's The Golem's Eye:

"The wolf leaped, slashing with its clawed hands, lunging with its red mouth. Kitty ducked, twisted herself round and thrust upwards with the knife. The wolf emitted a curiously high-pitched noise, swung an arm out and caught Kitty painfully across the shoulder. Claws snagged through the satchel strap; it fell away. Kitty stabbed again. The wolf bounded back out of reach. Kitty likewise stepped away. Her shoulder was throbbing painfully from the cut. The would was clasping a small wound in its side. It shook its head sadly at her. It seemed only mildly inconvenienced. They circled each other for a few seconds, lit by the silver moon. Kitty now had barely strength enough to lift the knife."

You see? While the paragraph seems to be focusing mainly on the wolf's actions, Kitty's responses (which I've bolded) are thrown in there as well. But according to the conventional wisdom Google dredged up for me, they shouldn't be. Maybe I'm just overthinking it, but the uncertainty I'm left with is really impeding my creative flow (which is easily impeded even at the best of times, let me tell you), which is kind of demoralizing to tell you the truth. And you know what the worst part is? Before I started looking up stuff about structure in fiction, I didn't have a problem. But now that I have, I seem to have lost my mojo :(

So yeah, that about the size of it. I hope I outlined the problem I'm having clearly. I also hope that somebody out there will be able to help me *smiles tentatively*

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mammamaia
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Re: action scenes (paragraphs)

Postby mammamaia » Sun Oct 05, 2014 10:53 am

sorry to disappoint you, but there are no standard 'guidelines' when it comes to paragraphing... it's a styling choice left up to each writer and the needs of the story...

take any 6 novels by successful authors on your bookshelf, study how each of them divides their narrative into paragraphs, and you should see what i mean...

your problem most likely stems from 'looking up stuff' about how to do this... don't consult how-tos, since each of their writers will have his/her own ideas of what 'should' be done and 'how'... there's no 'right/wrong' or 'best/worst' in re how to write good fiction... there's only 'what works' and 'what doesn't'...
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Re: action scenes (paragraphs)

Postby MookyMcD » Sun Oct 05, 2014 11:52 am

I'm with mamamaya. Aside from the general proposition that you probably want to keep paragraphs shorter to convey urgency, it's far more art than science.

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Re: action scenes (paragraphs)

Postby Roonerspism » Sun Oct 05, 2014 12:51 pm

Thank you for your replies gentlemen. I rather suspected it would be the case -- which is a shame, because I'm much more scientific than I am artsy :D

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Re: action scenes (paragraphs)

Postby Roonerspism » Sun Oct 05, 2014 12:53 pm

But would it be possible to define what doesn't work, at least? Because even knowing that would shift my writer's block I'm sure.

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Re: action scenes (paragraphs)

Postby DrG2 » Sun Oct 05, 2014 7:07 pm

In the example you gave, I probably would have kept it all one paragraph, though I may have broken it. It might depend on the context of the paragraphs around it.

Your paragraphs should vary in length, though sometimes it might be effective to have a series of short - - even one sentence - - paragraphs.

Very long paragraphs (more than a page) are a problem for me as a reader, but that is not necessarily the case for other readers. I read a Joyce Carol Oates short story (30 pages or so) that was one paragraph. If I looked at my writing and saw fewer than three paragraphs over a two-page interval, I might explore opportunities for breaking one.

Paragraphs are NOT about length, they are about ideas. If the idea seems to be changing, there should probably be a new paragraph. If your paragraphs ramble on, there might be other problems in your writing - - maybe you can't make a point.

But trumping everything is:
Paragraphs are for the readers. Make it easy for them to follow you, and give them some white space to break up the page. Long paragraphs can be daunting because the reader anticipates it will be hard to make sense of the whole thing.

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Re: action scenes (paragraphs)

Postby James A. Ritchie » Tue Oct 07, 2014 1:49 pm

This is tough. In fiction, there really are no standard rules for when to start a new paragraph, except when there are.

No rules does not mean anything and everything works, and it doesn't mean you can ignore paragraph rules everywhere in a novel. It just doesn't.

For the most part, you should, whenever possible, follow standard paragraph rules. When you need something else, have a reason for each new paragraph, and make sure it works, that it makes sense, and that it makes the content easier to follow, not more difficult.

In fight scenes, you may want to break paragraphs often, but this doesn't usually mean you aren't following the rules. A one word paragraph can follow the rules as surly as a one hundred word paragraph.

The paragraph you use as an example breaks no rules. This is not what is meant by changing paragraphs when a new character does something. If this were the case, some very long scenes would be nothing but one sentence paragraphs. You should always change paragraphs when the speaker changes, but multiple people can appear in the same paragraph, each doing a different action, even in formal writing. They can, obviously, even be doing different actions in the same sentence, and there's no way you can break this into paragraphs.

When one character is done, change paragraphs, but when two or more characters are involved in the same action, as the wolf and Kitty are, you only change paragraphs when the focus changes.

Style does play a part, but style within rules, within boundaries, and there most certainly are ways that don't work at all, and ways that are most certainly far worse than others. Not every way is right, and there is a best and a worst.

For the most part, I find the majority of writers out there do follow the rules of paragraphing pretty closely. Even when the use many one line paragraphs to depict fast action, each sentence most often stands as a true paragraph. When it doesn't, it's still done carefully, and for a reason, not just from style. As BrG2 says, paragraphs are not about length, they're about ideas, about content. A paragraph can be a chapter lone, and still follow the rules. You can also have a hundred one word paragraphs in a row, and also be following the rules.

What not to do is break paragraphs randomly, without good reason, and in the middle of focus. Just be thoughtful about it, and make sure the reader is getting a complete idea or action. Have a reason for breaking, and don't just guess at it.

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Re: action scenes (paragraphs)

Postby Roonerspism » Thu Oct 09, 2014 11:50 am


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Re: action scenes (paragraphs)

Postby pls » Thu Oct 09, 2014 2:56 pm

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Re: action scenes (paragraphs)

Postby MookyMcD » Thu Oct 09, 2014 7:11 pm

As with anything related to pacing, the same group of sentences may be better suited to one or two or three paragraphs depending on where they are in the novel and what happens before and after, too.

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