Writing 2: Paragraphs

I would like to discuss paragraphs, because I have come to realize that my paragraphs are the bricks of the story I am creating. Once the story is finished – and I mean truly and completely reworked, edited within an inch of being deleted, read through for the hundredth time finished – mortar will magically appear. Then, and not before then, will those bricks be fused together because, honestly, I can’t possibly know which brick is essential and which isn’t until I take a step back and view the entire structure.

I find this comforting because there is room for messing details up (what first version of anything was ever ready to be published? I’ve reworked the first paragraph of this post about five times already) and, even more importantly, there is leeway for changing my mind. The bricks are loose, my building adaptable to my needs. My needs will fluxuate as the characters begin to take more of a proper form. Their characteristics will undoubtedly come to influence the look and feel of what I am attempting to create and so, for me, being flexible with my vision is essential for it to become something solid enough to share with others. Because I only share the mortarless building with a very few and very trusted – it wrecks so easily.

Now, let me get into the brick of things. A paragraph is the ultimate tool in structuring your story (or any writing for that matter) as one can always take into serious consideration whether a paragraph is used to restate information that has already been given to the reader, or furthering your story as a whole. Hint: the second option is the good option.

Now, don’t get me wrong – if you mention on page three that Old McDonald has a farm and this information is a foreshadowing of the murder, discovered on page one-hundred-and-fifty-eight, having taken place on Old McDonald’s farm, then you may need to reference said farm a few times in the pages leading up to the discovery of this gruesome death to ensure that the importance of the location is somewhere in the back of the reader’s mind. But I am not talking about foreshadowing when I say restate information. I am talking about repetition of inconsequental details. Repetition gets old.

You know what I’m talking about.

You know what I’m talking about.

You have come across those stories, too. When a writer seems to fret that the reader is unable to remember that all-important detail and so they hammer it home on every other page. Or the plotless stories that stamp their feet without ever really going anywhere, with characters that have no character traits and dialogue that makes your eyes water. To avoid this all-dreaded, soul-swallowing place I try to consider key things:

What is this paragraph telling me of the characters, the place they’re in and the plot of the story?

Stands to mention that this is pretty much how I also approach a scene I’m writing in a screenplay. What information does it provide and what is it saying about the different blocks of my story that has enough of an impact that I want to keep it there? If the paragraph is not doing much for any of these three extensive building blocks mentioned above – character, setting, plot – then the paragraph is weak and should either be rewritten or taken out completely. I might also find that it’s not optimally placed – as I said, things will change, and shifting paragraphs or whole blocks of them around is part of the building process.

Why exactly am I addressing the paragraph as part of my writing process? Because as the movable bricks of my storytelling I find it rather a relief to be able to think of going from one paragraph to the next instead of from one page to the next or one chapter to the next. I can concentrate on that moment of finding the right phrasing to start a new paragraph and allow myself the satisfaction of having created one more brick for my building, once that paragraph is finished. Baby steps will look like leaps and bounds once you’re about to cross the finish line and turn to look back at what you’ve accomplished.

So what I am saying is simply this: don’t sweat the big stuff, take pleasure in the small stuff  because that is what ultimately gets you where you need to go.

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