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Paragraphing—Yes, You Heard Me

By G. Miki Hayden
Instructor at Writer's Digest University online and private writing coach

firstwriter.com – Wednesday December 12, 2018

I wouldn’t think paragraphing could be a mysterious business, but apparently so.

I wish I had an electronic rubber stamp that said, “Break your paragraphs”, because writers need to do exactly that. My students, in particular, need to do just that.

Oh, and the novel I’m editing now—the complex cyberpunk novel with futuristic wording—yes, needs paragraph breaks.

Strangely, a 250-word paragraph is not too inviting to readers. Well, let me mention here that the length of a page in print is traditionally considered to be 250 words. How good does a page look without a paragraph break? Such a page looks... bad. It looks intimidating. It looks unreadable. It looks grey. Such a page has no white space.

Plus, I’ve seen much longer paragraphs—350 words, say... That’s solid print.

Break your paragraphs.

Break your paragraphs for each new speaker. But you know that. However, a recent student of mine apparently missed that day in school.

We’re trying to help our readers read. Break your paragraphs.

And then again, where should we break a paragraph, other than for each different speaker?

In truth, you’ll find plenty of opportunities. Trust me on that. You can break a paragraph with a change of subject, or...when a break seems reasonable. Reasonable is good enough because we want to break our paragraphs and have a page with some white space, a page that attracts the reader.

Break, and perhaps give some transition at the start of the new paragraph.

Short paragraphs say: Read me. I won’t bog you down or ask more of you than you’re willing to give.

I wonder about writers who don’t care what the reader thinks or about the burden being put on the reader. Does narcissism impress? Sometimes, it does. But generally speaking, good writing manners count.

Break your paragraphs.

I love to give writing advice—and here’s some for mystery (and other genre) writers: https://tinyurl.com/ya4n939h . I won an award for this a few years back. This is a third edition.

About the Author

G. Miki Hayden is a short story Edgar winner. She teaches a mystery writing and a thriller writing and other writing classes at Writer's Digest online university. The third edition of her Writing the Mystery is available through Amazon and other good bookshops. She is also the author of The Naked Writer, a comprehensive, easy-to-read style and composition guide for all levels of writers.

"Holder, Oklahoma Senior Police Officer Aaron Clement is out for justice above all, even if he irritates the local hierarchy. Hayden in Dry Bones gives us nothing-barred investigation and plenty of nitty-gritty police procedure—which makes for a real page turner." — Marianna Ramondetta, author of The Barber from Palermo

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