Writing Tip Tuesday: Paragraph Length

This tip was prompted by a question:
At my last writers group meeting, I was told that my paragraphs were way too long. Can you give me an idea of appropriate paragraph length? Is is a certain number of sentences? How do I know when to make a new paragraph? Help!

First, let's define "paragraph".

Short answer: A paragraph is "a distinct portion of written or printed matter dealing with a particular idea." (Dictionary.com)

Longer, more detailed answer: CLICK HERE.

A paragraph can be anywhere from one sentence (even one word) to a dozen sentences or more. In today's world, shorter is better. (When editing, I frequently add paragraph breaks; rarely do I suggest combining paragraphs.) When a reader sees a page that is all one paragraph or has one long paragraph after another, they stop reading. It's visually overwhelming. Breaking your text up into paragraphs makes it much easier to read.

So, when do you start a new paragraph?
  • When a new person speaks
  • When you start a new topic
  • When you move to a new time or location
  • When you need to give your reader a break or rest
  • When you want to create a dramatic effect


Chas Hathaway said...

Thanks for the tip. I've noticed this is the case on my blog, too. If I have more than three or four sentences in a paragraph, it looks like a wall of text.

Breaking it up helps. Now if they will just make a simple way to tab the first sentence in a blog paragraph. I tricked mine. I created a tiny blank white picture and uploaded it to my blog.

Now I have paragraph tabs! Yay!

ex. http://music.willowrise.com/?p=437

If someone knows a simpler way, I'd sure love to see it.

Great post!

- Chas

Annette Lyon said...

Adding one to your list of when to start a new paragraph--when it's just too darn long and needs to be broken up! :)

Tanya Parker Mills said...

Excellent posting! I see too many stories with lines of dialogue hidden at the end of a 3-4 sentence paragraph.