When I was in grade school, we learned to write paragraphs. There had to be (come on, you know the lesson) a topic sentence, a concluding sentence, and sentences in between to discuss the topic of the paragraph.
And, for youngsters who have no concept on how to organize their thoughts for clear communication, these are not bad things to learn. Providing a structure on which to base future thoughts and patterns is a form of discipline that is essential, I believe, to everyone. No matter what kind of future life holds for a young person, the ability to organize one’s thoughts and present them clearly is a plus. The “five-sentence paragraph” seemed to be taught as strictly as the “five paragraph essay”.
When one is writing fiction, the rules are less clear. I have been asked—often—
- “How long should a chapter be?”
- “How many sentences need to be in a paragraph?”
- “What does a paragraph do, anyway?”
- “What’s the right length for a story?”
You get the idea.
Thing is, there aren’t diagrams that one can take with one into the writing world. Paragraph lengths can be as much style as substance, for example, and length is fully dependent upon the writer, not a conventional form. Until and unless one adapts to convention for genre literature, that is.
I was working on the first draft for the final book of the Éire’s Viking Trilogy over the weekend. The scene was moving along, characters interacting and so on, and I realized half-way through a paragraph that I needed to split it up and move the second half to its own paragraph.
Why? I even asked myself that.
Why did I decide to move it at that point rather than constructing the piece differently?
Honestly? I haven’t any concrete answer. Only that it felt right.
When writing, often it comes down to that. That feeling. That idea. The first draft is all about just writing the story. Getting it from your mind to the screen or paper in such a way as there is a coherent tale unfolding in one way or another.
Some writers have a bunch of clear scenes that they write out in no particular order and then build the story to connect these scenes. Other writers start at the end and work backward. Still others are like me and write the thing out in order from beginning to end.
There isn’t a “right way”. It’s just the way one writes.
What kind of writer are you? 😉