Wednesday, December 11, 2013
The craft of rewriting-Technical Flaws-Variety-Sentence Structure-Paragraphs
By OFW chief editor:
Carlos J Cortes And Renée Miller
Published: April 04, 2013
Paragraphs, like sentences, must vary in structure and length. One of the most common errors in fiction writing is failure to vary paragraph length. Writers either combine what should be several paragraphs into one long, dizzying block of text or create several short paragraphs that create a choppy, stilted effect.
A paragraph typically contains four to five related sentences that deal with a single idea. Of course, that is a guide, and writers should strive for paragraphs that extend beyond five lines as well as ones that are shorter. Writers may have amazing or brilliant ideas, but if they are presented in a disorganized way, the greatness is lost.
Creating paragraph variety is simple. First, examine each page. Don’t read it, just look at the page as a whole. When readers see large blocks of text, their instinct is to either skip it or close the book. If we’re lucky, they’ll give it a go, but that doesn’t happen often. We recommend going through each page of prose and looking for balance. For example a page that contains one large block of text isn’t balanced. This should be broken into at least one medium and one short paragraph. A page that contains five lines, two lines, eight lines, and four lines, is a fairly balanced page. To the eye it looks varied.
However, there is much more to paragraph variety than just the number of sentences we’ve created. What about the types of sentences? We must also examine each sentence within the paragraph.
Maria hated dogs. She loathed the beasts. One of the filthy mongrels licked her face once, and she’d kicked it. The owner had much to say later.
Feel the harsh choppiness of the simple sentences? This paragraph begins with two simple sentences, followed by a compound sentence, and ends with another simple sentence. It’s not varied. Sure we’ve got a compound sentence mixed in there, but it still doesn’t read smoothly. It jostles. There are four sentences here, so we could vary this using four different sentence types, or delete the unnecessary bits. The second simple sentence isn’t needed. With it removed, the paragraph shows more balance.
One technique for creating sentence variety is called the diamond paragraph. Using simple, compound, complex and compound-complex sentences in each paragraph creates a diamond shape when the sentences are listed. It works like this:
Julie hated her boss. (simple) The man behaved like a pig, and his booming voice irritated her. (compound) Although his replacement was a jerk, she couldn’t imagine a worse boss, or one as attractive. (compound-complex) His appearance didn’t make up for his attitude, not in her opinion. (complex). Things would be simpler without him. (simple)
The paragraph above creates a diamond in the sentences we’ve used. How? Let’s list the sentence types and we’ll see:
When rewriting for paragraph structure, list the types of sentences used within each. Do we have significantly more of one or another? Rewrite to vary them. The diamond pattern doesn’t have to be established with each paragraph, but in longer passages of five or more sentences, it creates a varied piece of prose that is pleasing for the reader. Careful use of sentence and paragraph variety creates a smooth and flowing story.
Renee Miller & Carlos Cortes
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