Last week, I discussed writing nonfiction paragraphs. Many of the rules that apply to this type of paragraph also apply to fiction paragraphs. Descriptive paragraphs within fiction can often be written in the same style as nonfiction paragraphs.
Usually, writing factual or descriptive paragraphs is not a problem for most writers. However, the same cannot be said for writing fiction paragraphs involving characters. Although the same rules apply, they are slightly different.
A Few Rules for Writing Fiction Paragraphs
They should contain only one idea.
Each time a different character speaks, acts or thinks, a new paragraph must be started.
They should be no longer than 1/3 of the page and preferably shorter.
Regarding Rule #2, if a new paragraph is not started when a different character speaks, acts or thinks, readers will be confused and not know who is doing or saying what. Here’s an example of what could happen if this rule was not followed.
Wilma was one day away from retirement and walked with a spring in her step towards the bus stop. When she spotted her friend Rose, she waved. “How are you this morning,” said Rose. “Happy. Excited.” She hugged her friend. “I bet you can’t wait to leave on your around-the-world trip.” “I stayed up half the night packing.” She looked to see the bus approach. “We better hurry. I don’t want to be late for my last day at work.” Rose looped her arm with hers and tugged her forward. “It would be a bad omen for your retirement.”
Writing like this confuses readers, and it wouldn’t take long before they dropped the book and went onto something else, like cleaning out the chicken coop.
Constructing the ideal paragraph can be difficult. That’s why teachers start discussing the mechanics of it in elementary and continue right on through to grade 12. Solving the mystery behind paragraphs is a vital step in writing books.
A paragraph contains one subject only. This one subject is introduced in the first sentence, supported in the body and concluded in the final sentence.
The introduction sentence introduces the topic in a general manner.
The supporting sentences are where the meat of information is located. It contains specific facts.
The conclusion sentence wraps up the idea and summarizes the topic of the paragraph in a few words.
An Exercise for Creating a Nonfiction Paragraph
First Sentence: Introduce subject by answering: What is a chicken?
Points to Cover in the body of the paragraph:
Chickens are domesticated birds that lay eggs.
Female chickens are hens.
Male chickens are roosters.
Hens lay eggs.
What do they look like?
Last Sentence: Conclusion: And that’s what a chicken is.
“Dominated by women, as both readers and writers, romance still needs strong male characters. So how do you write male characters for romance novels? Author Richard (RJ) Gould, explains.
When it comes to the genre of romance, women dominate. Most romance writers are female, most readers are female, and plots predominantly centre on the female point of view. At this early stage, I should point out that I‘m a male author who writes romance fiction. I’m not unique, but I am a rarity. My publisher, Accent Press, badges my novels as contemporary women’s fiction and several literary agents have suggested I use a female pseudonym. Adopting ‘RJ’ as opposed to Richard is my cowardly compromise. At Romantic Novelists’ Association events, including the annual conferences with up to 200 participants, over 95 percent are women and several of the few males write under a female alias.”
In a recent blog post, I discussed the importance of Style Sheets. Another form sheet equally important is the character sheet. Even if a story has only a handful of characters, a detailed list will help keep them in line and their hair colour from changing from chapter to chapter.
A character sheet is a life saver if a novel contains many characters or is one in a series. During the first edit of Shadows in the Stone, I created one to save my sanity. The story contains 74 named characters. Some of these individuals were mentioned only two or three times, but it was important to keep their individual stories straight, along with their age and the weapons of their choice.
What to put on a character sheet is up to the writer. Personally, I use the following headings.
The full name of the character is written in the first column along with nicknames, ranks, titles and keys to pronunciation (if it is an unusual name). With regard to nicknames, I add a note about who uses them.
For example, we may know a character as Chris, but his mother might still call him Christopher while his best friend calls him Shortie.
I just spent ten days with three young children on spring break. The weather outside was frightful…at times, so we were cooped up inside most of the week. Besides the usual errands, project writing and cooking adventures, those children of Midgard kept busy watching their favourite movie series of superheroes. They even invited stray children from other households to join them in a movie fest of mammoth proportions.
Between explosions, realm hopping and fighting to save Midgard (for those uninformed beings: Earth) emanating from the livingroom, I heard laughter and impressive one-liners. I discovered the Midgardians sprawled across the chesterfields gripping half-eaten bowls of chips, Cheesies and popcorn not only liked the evil guy named Loki, but they adored him. They thought he was just as great as the superheroes who were saving the planet.
This piqued my curiosity. Why did they love this Loki guy? What did he possess? Charisma? Charm? Awesome power? A brave and loyal steed?
Evil doers were supposed to be disliked, perhaps even hated. Movie-goers are supposed to cheer when the bad guy goes down, but not the Midgardians in my house. They instead cheered him on, laughed at his expressions and repeated his dialogue until it echoed in my head for days later: “Mmm, Brother, you look ravishing!”
Some days I feel cursed. Other days, I can’t believe I’m this lucky. As the tenth of eleven children raised by parents both born in the 1920s, I was exposed to many different genres of music. As a result, on my MP3 player, you’ll find John Denver snuggled beside Bonnie Tyler, Loverboy and Rod Stewart squished between Donna Fargo and Buddy Wasisname, and Anne Murray rubbing shoulders with Helix and Andy Stewart.
Music has always influenced me in one way or another. It can enhance or change my mood depending on the day and the attention I give it. The melody of a song can set a mood, but it’s the words that can make me laugh, dance or shed a tear. The degrees of these emotions depend on whether I’m listening to the song or singing along.
But let’s get this out of the way first: I don’t sing well. However, I sing often.
Hearing someone sing their heart out may not tug on your aorta, but that may change if you put their words in your mouth. Personally, I can sit and listen to Son Run to the Spring by Cal Smith and ignore the story within the melody, but I can’t sing it with a dry eye. I become that boy who must run to the spring for water while my mother spares me from witnessing her silent death due to a long term illness.
Feeling the music can only be accomplished by putting yourself in the shoes of the song’s character. That’s not to say you’re Dean Brody, standing on stage in front of thousands of fans. You are the boy who must watch your older brother go off to war and wait for him to return (Brothers) and the young man who wonders about the lives of his high school girlfriend, his college friends and the girl who gave him up for adoption (Trail of Life).
Of course, you get the good parts, too. You’re basking in the sun on the Santa Maria (Trooper) and bragging about Who Wouldn’t Wanna be Me (Keith Urban).
Sure, you can just sit and listen, but you won’t feel the full effects of getting into character unless you sing those words.
Breathing life into the words you’ve written is done exactly the same way.
Before I submit anything, I always read it aloud. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 400-word blog or a 100,000-word novel, reading every word is the last step in editing. Actually, if I get stuck on a section of writing, I read it aloud. Often, it is all that’s needed to find that perfect word or the next sentence.
When I read, I take on the characteristics of the character. If I’m angry, I speak with anger. If I’m stumbling over my dialogue, then I stutter. Sometimes, I’ll use a Scottish or English accent, just to hear the story with fresh ears. It doesn’t matter if I get the accent right; the point is to make it different than how I usually speak.
Reading it aloud will point out problems in rhythm, uncover those words that sound too much alike and find words that have been accidentally left out.
In my novel, Mystery Light in Cranberry Cove, two of the main characters were Ellis and Alice. On paper, these names are easily distinguished. However, when you read them out loud in a sentence, they sound very similar – too similar for characters who will spend a lot of time together in a novel. In the end, I changed Alice’s name to Shona.
If reading your words doesn’t create the emotions you want to convey, then consider making changes. You don’t want to giggle in the middle of a tragedy and you don’t want readers to think a character is angry when he’s really trying to sweet talk his lover.
If you’ve never read your work aloud, give it a shot. Feel those words, make them yours. Guaranteed you’ll hear things from a new prospective – your character’s.