June 2018 Editing Tip – Paragraphs with Purpose and Punch

Remember when grade-school teachers insisted you include three to five complete sentences in every paragraph? That formula worked well for crafting elementary essays, but you’ll benefit from sometimes tossing aside that guideline in current projects. Variety adds spice not only to life but also to your writing rhythm.

Shorter paragraphs make points with a punch.

Longer paragraphs, on the other hand, allow you to develop and build on ideas or emotions. Layering in details about the setting where a scene takes place, for example, might require several sentences. You could begin with elements describing the weather—without using the infamous dark and stormy night cliché, of course. Instead of outright stating atmospheric conditions, allow sensory depictions to reveal your main character’s physical responses. Then, readers’ eyes narrow along with your character’s as they strain to make out shadowed movements. The crash of thunder shaking windowpanes causes your audience to flinch along with your penned alter ego. As leaking, icy rain slides down your narrator’s neck, your readers can’t help also shivering and looking over their shoulders when a floorboard creaks…

Invested in this staged, spooky scene, your readers willingly sign on for your story’s full-length journey. Or quick, roller-coaster tale.

What was that last, brief blip between periods? Not a full sentence, certainly. There—it happened again. With sparing deliberation, you can work such sentence fragments into your prose for emphasis, to set a more casual and conversational tone, or for other dramatic impact. As a wise wordsmith, however, use caution when adding the strong spice of sentence fragments to the words you dish up.

The next time you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to craft or edit your story, watch for ways to pack more variety into your paragraph structures. Happy revising!

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