Saturday, 13 September 2008


Finished the grammar/spelling/typos readthrough of the novel. I've moved onto going through and adjusting the paragraphs. This is a hold-over from my screenwriting where one of the general rules of thumb is to have no block of text that's more than four lines long.

I've noticed I have a habit when I'm originally drafting my novel of using long paragraphs. Actually I have a habit of using no paragraphs originally, as I'm writing longhand in a notebook and trying to cram as many words onto as few pages as I can - otherwise I'd be using dozens of notebooks rather than the two I managed to fit my novel into.

When I typed up my novel though, I do put in the paragraphs. Not as many as I should though, which is why the second run-through. One nice thing about this go through is that I don't have to dwell on every word, like my first edit/rewrite. Paragraph lengths is all about making the story easy to read - too long a block of text and the eye becomes lost in it. I also try to keep sentences short for similar reasons - that's taken care of by my reading-out-loud run-through.

So, if I scan the page and notice some of the paragraphs looking a bit bulky, I take a closer look to see what I can rearrange. Sometimes there's nothing that can be done - the paragraph is a series of consecutive thoughts that can't be broken up (except maybe be completely rewriting it - which I have done when it suits).

Most of the time though, there's a natural break. Sometimes it's when a character starts another action. Sometimes it's just about changing the emphasis slightly.

What I have noticed is that I'm fighting against this notion I have that paragraphs are supposed to be a sizable length - a certain number of sentences (for some reason four always springs to mind). What you notice if you look at a number of novels (modern novels - don't even think about trying to emulate the size of Dickens' paragraphs) is that a lot of paragraphs are no more than one or two sentences long.

Which is what I've been trying to do with this post.

It may seem like sweating over the details, but guiding the way the reader experiences the tale is the storyteller's key role. And the size of my paragraphs are one of the ways I try to do that.

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