“I’m a great believer in the power of the paragraph. I think paragraphs should have a little plot, should lead you into something strange and different, tie a knot in the middle, and at the end do a little surprise, and then prepare you for the next paragraph.”
Paragraphs are both the workhorses and the stallions of vibrant prose. They may move with solid logic from one idea to the next: that’s the workhorse approach. Or they may race along with a kind of captivating energy that carries a reader forward: that’s the stallion version leaping toward the finish line. But whether workhorse or stallion in style, they need a coherent internal structure to light the way from sentence to sentence.
In his first-rate guide, A Writer’s Coach, Jack Hart offers valuable advice on paragraph handling. A few of his pointers:
Use paragraphing to add punch: While showing relationships between sentences, you can also use paragraphs to underscore ideas and add impact. “When a short, punch graf suddenly appears after a long, languid one, it helps hammer home a point.”
Use direct quotes as paragraph kickers: Well-chosen paragraph breaks convey meaning, so don’t waste them. For instance, there’s no reason why every direct quotation in a story has to stand alone as a separate paragraph. “If you fall into that habit, you sacrifice a good deal of your power to convey meaning through paragraph breaks.” Why? Mainly because good quotes often make great “graf kickers” — punchy paragraph endings that prime readers to leap forward.
Use paragraphing artfully: As you write, step back for a moment and scan a page of your text. Avoid relying too heavily on two common extremes: long, clunky blocks of type or “staccato bursts” of one or two-line paragraphs. Instead, vary your prose by mixing up short, medium, and long paragraphs.