Paragraphs in Fiction

I review a lot of other writers stuff. Or maybe critique is a better word. Hands down the one problem I see over and over and over is with paragraphing.

The most common thing writers seem to do is combine the actions of more than one character within a single paragraph. For instance:

“Mary watched as Jimbo combed his hair over his bald spot. She just didn’t know if she could love a man with a bald head. Jimbo clearly made googly eyes at her all the time, so he must be interested. But Mary was going to have to stop this before it went too far.”

Is this paragraph about Mary or Jimbo?

The reader will make a determination about it even if the writer didn’t mean what the reader infers. If the reader infers correctly, then all is good, but if the reader infers incorrectly, problems will ensue that could lead to the reader putting the book down and walking away. No one wants to be confused.  And no writer wants the reader to quit reading before the end of the book.

Each character should have their own paragraph for action. Period. It’s that simple. So, to correct this:

“Jimbo combed his hair over his bald spot.

Mary shook her head. She wasn’t sure she could love a man with a bald head. What would people think?

He looked her way, winked, and smiled. Turning in his seat, he waved a finger towards her.

She didn’t wave back. The flirting had to stop and stop now. She was never going to love him.”

Prose aside (I am not a romance writer by any means … ) This version is very clear as to who is doing what and thinking what. Each paragraph contains the actions of one character. There is no chance for confusing the reader. Yes, it uses a few more words, but those words mean something.

Good writing takes work. It’s more than just putting a story on the page. And making sure you’re paragraphs are clear is one small way to make your writing better.

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