Sunday, December 26, 2010

When to End your Paragraph

How and when to end a paragraph is something I don’t often see written about, and honestly I’m not quite sure myself on this topic. Hopefully I will help understand myself, how and why I end a paragraph by the end of this post. But in my opinion, the purpose of a paragraph is to convey a full series of interconnected thoughts. But that is pretty vague…so I’ll need a paragraph or two to fully convey my point.

First I’d like to start out with the word. The most fundamental building block of language is the word. (aside from letters, but they all exist on your keyboard already…words, not so much.) Words make up sentences, which make up paragraphs, which make up chapters, books, trilogies…etc. They express an idea, one simple, single, abstract thought. A word will make the reader picture something in their minds or generate an emotion, all depending on the person. Really though, a single word does not have much power over a general audience without context.

Words are given context in phrases. phrases allow for an entire single thought to be conveyed. That’s it. Just one. You can’t write a phrase that focuses on two different ideas. For instance, to convey the thoughts that Mary has a blue dress and that she goes to school, you need two phrases. (I’m pretty sure. If there is a grammar expert out there that thinks I’m wrong, please correct me.) I know you’re thinking “Mary wore a blue dress to school.” might disprove that point, but the main focus is that she goes to school; blue is just a modifier.

Sentences now, they are made up of phrases. (A sentence can be a single phrase, which can also be a single word, or many.) A sentence contains a full, complete, thought. So “Mary wore a blue dress, and she went to school.” takes the full idea of Mary going to school with a blue dress and packages it into a single unit, making neither the blue dress, or going to school irrelevant. That is what I think a sentence is in a nutshell.

And how here we finally get to the paragraph: it should contain a more complex idea, for instance a description of a room; and you could write a full and rich room description in a single sentence; but doing so over and over again, will tire the reader and make pacing difficult; and this is where the paragraph comes in, taking a really long sentence and allowing you as a writer to break it up into multiples, while still keeping that idea contained in a single vessel.

So now where do you end a paragraph? You end it once you have completed your idea. My rule of thumb, is that if I can’t link the entire paragraph into a single sentence, I need to start a new paragraph. But don’t let this limit you either. There comes a point where you might have a 3 page paragraph, and while there is nothing wrong with that, it will tire your reader. At that point you might want to look at breaking it up. Where you would do that would be up to you, but I would suggest any time you have a good line, or a word that would end it with a lot of power.

And that brings me to my last point. To make your writing more effective, you want to try and end your paragraphs on a good, strong word. If you end your paragraph with a word like ‘this’ or ‘is’, there is not a lot of power. But if you end it in a word, like I did above, that is powerful, it puts a good, strong, stamp on your writing.

So hopefully this helps you, and as always I don’t proclaim to be an expert on grammar. Don’t show a teacher/professor this blog as why you can do something, but I think it’s right.

What do you think is the best place to end a paragraph?

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