(Originally published in Jobs in Hell, July 2000)
When do you take a break in your writing? No, no, not what time do you get up for a drink of water, when do you break from one paragraph to another?
In reading entries for a recent short story contest, I saw paragraphs that would go on and on and on and on (and on), often for pages at a time. Ouch!
There are a few rules for knowing when to break from one paragraph to the next. Now, fiction does not have to follow the most formal of rules for writing. You can structure your words for greater effect, but if you think about these while you’re writing, it will help you to keep the flow going.
Break into another paragraph whenever you:
- have another character speak
- switch settings
- establish a new idea
- want the reader to pause
- change the pace of the story
- make a revelation
- switch point-of-view
- change emotional tone
- feel like it
In non-fiction, paragraph structure usually follows the path of an idea: theory, supporting details, conclusion. The next paragraph would then chart the next idea. Not a bad thing to keep in mind.