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 how to write a good paragraph by exploring different lengths and kinds of paragraphs—and when to use each one.
How to Write a Good Paragraph with Only a Single Sentence, Word, or Phrase:
When looking to add emphasis and build suspense, it’s hard to beat this device. Take a look at an example from the thriller The Blood Gospel by James Rollins and Rebecca Cantrell:
Erin’s head jolted forward, snapping her awake. Deafened by the roar of the helicopter, she found herself looking into an amazing pair of eyes, light blue with a darker ring around the edge of the iris. The eyes smiled at her. She smiled back before she realized that they belonged to Jordan.
She had fallen asleep on his shoulder and woken up smiling at him.
A married man.
In a helicopter full of priests.
Once the scene is set, the character’s revelations are broken into short lines of their own so that each one makes an impact on the reader. This can work well to heighten tension and interest in the middle of a scene, and can also make for a page-turning end to a chapter.
Without worrying about paragraph structure, write a passage in which the narrator finds herself in some predicament, such as being stuck in a malfunctioning elevator with two other people. Then divide the passage in a way that gives dramatic emphasis to one or two unusual aspects of that predicament.
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:
- DESCRIPTIVE PARAGRAPHS
- INFORMATIVE 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.