The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

26 January 2007

Graph paper

"Don't ask me to find the topic sentence in a paragraph containing two or more sentences," says novelist Brenda Coulter, and she means it:

I have long been baffled by paragraphs. When I first started writing, I assumed my editors would correct my improper paragraph breaks, consolidating some paragraphs and dividing others as necessary. But they've never done that, and I mean never, which leads me to conclude (1) that I am accidentally getting it right, or (2) that proper paragraphing isn't an exact science, or (3) that the whole paragraph thing isn't nearly as important as my teachers wanted me to believe.

I'm thinking a mixture of (1) and (2), inasmuch as Mrs Muckenfuss (may she rest in peace) would taunt me from the Grammar Netherworld for suggesting anything like (3).

Of course, one can always avoid Topic Sentences by doing single-sentence paragraphs, but this is a technique used mostly by untalented hacks.


Posted at 6:30 AM to Almost Yogurt

Or, no paragraph breaks at all, with run-on sentences strung together like popcorn for a Christmas tree. I have seen a few blog writers that seem to prefer that style and it drives me crazy. And most particularly especially specificially when they use no capitalization or punctuation and just have this long string of words that keeps going and going like the that battery bunny which reminds me of the one about the coon dog and the squirrel but I'm not going to get into that now since it is so long and drawn out and this has gone on quite long enough don't you think do you see what I mean

Posted by: Winston at 9:19 AM on 26 January 2007

I just break paragraphs where I feel like

breaking them.

Posted by: McGehee at 9:46 AM on 26 January 2007

Paragraph breaks in journalism or expository writing can be serious business, but in fiction they're mostly about punctuating sequences of events in time. A fictional paragraph has no "topic." It should have a viewpoint character. It should contain one or more tightly coupled events. It should make some emotional contribution to the story. But these are not things that require the old-style topic-meat-meat-meat-conclusion structure we were all taught in grammar school.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at 12:49 PM on 26 January 2007

Paragraphs used in fiction are totally different than all that stuff that was taught in high school English. It's more about style and flow--as long as the paragraphs (or lack thereof) don't give the reader a headache, it's probably okay.

Posted by: sya at 7:01 PM on 26 January 2007