Paragraph writing in fiction doesn’t follow traditional rules. Like storytelling itself, it is artistically liberated, and that liberation gives it the potential to contribute to the story’s aesthetic appeal. Paragraphs build a story segment-by-segment. They establish and adjust the pace while adding subtle texture. They convey mood and voice. They help readers visualize the characters and the way they think and act by regulating the flow of their thoughts and actions.
In this series, adapted from "The Art of the Paragraph" by Fred D. White in the January 2018 issue of Writer's Digest, we cover paragraph writing by exploring different lengths and kinds of paragraphs—and when to use each one. [Subscribe to Writer's Digest today.]
How to Write an Informative Paragraph:
Paragraphs with the primary function of moving the plot forward or conveying information are relatively uniform (this happened, then this happened; or, here’s the scoop on the nature of the problem we’re dealing with; or, this is how things came to be this way). Consider this World War I combat scene from Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms:
The wounded were coming into the post, some were carried on stretchers, some walking and some were brought on the backs of men that came across the field. They were wet to the skin and all were scared. We filled two cars with stretcher cases as they came up from the cellar of the post and as I shut the door of the second car and fastened it I felt the rain on my face turn to snow. The flakes were coming heavy and fast in the rain. When daylight came the storm was still blowing but the snow had stopped. It had melted as it fell on the wet ground and now it was raining again. There was another attack just after daylight but it was unsuccessful …
Consisting of relatively sparse sentences, Hemingway’s paragraphs generate a somber, elegiac, almost fatalistic mood suitable for a story about the spirit-sapping experiences of war.
Dramatize a crime scene investigation in one paragraph. Next, rewrite the scene using three paragraphs, working in the detective’s knowledge of similar crimes.
This is one of five basic kinds of paragraphs and their respective functions in fiction. Learn about each type of paragraph writing—and how to apply what you've learned—in these articles:
- SINGLE-SENTENCE PARAGRAPHS
- DESCRIPTIVE PARAGRAPHS
- DIALOGUE PARAGRAPHS
- MONOLOGUE PARAGRAPHS
- APPLYING PARAGRAPHING TECHNIQUES
Fred D. White is the author of The Writer’s Idea Thesaurus, Where Do You Get Your Ideas? and The Daily Writer. His latest, Writing Flash, will be published this spring.