Constructing Paragraphs in Fiction

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

  1. They should contain only one idea.
  2. Each time a different character speaks, acts or thinks, a new paragraph must be started.
  3. 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.

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Constructing Nonfiction Paragraphs

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.

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Editing Tip: Word Overload

EditingHave you ever read a sentence and thought, “Not much was said; why were there so many words?”

The extra baggage a sentence carries is directly related to the experience a writer has had with editing, whether self-editing or professional editing. Although some writers recognise this word overload soon after they pick up a pen, many of us learn about it through others.

In my teens, I took a creative writing course. That was my first real experience in self-editing and chopping unnecessary words.

At that time, my sentences may have looked like this:

Quite simply, I was telling him about this and that when the alarm sounded.

Oh, my, anyways, he was going on about the food and all that jazz.

Well, we were picking up things and this and that sort of stuff.

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Editing Tip: Using Time in Novels

ClockTime. It’s what we’ve lived by for centuries. Whether you get shot at 6:00 am or at dawn, there’s always a time to record.

Many of us go through our daily time watching without knowing exactly what we’re saying when we’re asked, “What time is it?” and we answer, “7:45 am.”

If we are pressed for a meaning, we might say ‘am’ stands for after midnight. We’d be wrong. The abbreviation ‘am’ stands for ante meridiem which is Latin for before midday. The usual meaning I give to my kids for ‘pm’ is pre-midnight, which is also wrong. The abbreviation stands for post meridiem which translates to after midday.

But how do you record these abbreviations in your novel? Do you go with the simple am and pm? Or do you use the old fashioned way of writing them: a.m. and p.m.? Or do you use all capital letters: AM and PM?

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