Let’s talk about the power of the paragraph. A story, no matter how small, cannot be told without this form of punctuation. Yes, that’s right. A paragraph is a form of punctuation—a mark of separation. Used correctly, it can build your story. Use it incorrectly, and it will tear it apart. Add some panache to your paragraph style, and you take your story to an all new level.

Many modern readers will often subconsciously scan a page. Why? Because we’re a fast-paced society. A long, drawn out paragraph slows us down.

Here’s a secret. Many editors consciously scan a page. Why? Because readers live in a fast-paced society, and long, drawn out paragraphs slow them down.

Don’t misunderstand. In self-editing your paragraph structure, an author doesn’t necessarily want to eliminate every lengthy block of text. She does want to scrutinize every word, making sure each one relates to the main idea of that particular paragraph. If a sentence isn’t part of that main idea, it’s time for a new paragraph.

Dialogue without an attribute or a tag should stand alone as a paragraph. Add character action, and a self-editor must be sure that the action and the dialogue of the same character stay together and are not intermingled with the action or the dialogue of another character.

“Susie went to the store.” Mary pulled the cookies from the stove. Joe sat at the table. “She’s buying more flour.” She stole a glance in his direction.

Most readers would need to reread that paragraph. As structured, you can’t be sure who’s speaking the last line. Do this too many times to a reader, and an author stands a strong chance of losing the reader’s interest.

“Susie went to the store.” Mary pulled the cookies from the stove.

Joe sat at the table.

“She’s buying more flour.” She stole a glance in his direction.

The proper break, keeping a character’s dialogue and action together, prevents the reader from being jarred out of the story trying to determine who did or said what.

And what about the panache that can take your writing to new levels?

The paragraph below is in proper format. The main topic, as written, is the heroine’s description of the hero.

Not a tall drink of water. His under six foot height complements my five foot six frame. There’s something raw and attractive about his wispy brown strands that seem to settle anywhere they wish on his head. A touch of an overbite keeps him from appearing like a cardboard cutout of a Ken doll. No, he isn’t perfect. Who needs perfect? But it’s not his good looks alone that capture my attention. He bears a look about him of danger, as if he lives life on the edge. Yet in his coffee-colored eyes he wears a cloak of calm composure. He has something under control, but what it is I’m too afraid to discover. He’s hot—like the diamond I lifted from the counter of Tiffany’s. And his British accent only completes the package.

Using the paragraph break to her advantage, putting an emphasis on certain portions of the text, an author can show the reader there’s much more to the heroine’s description than first meets the eye:

Not a tall drink of water. His under six foot height complements my five foot six frame. There’s something raw and attractive about his wispy brown strands that seem to settle anywhere they wish on his head. A touch of an overbite keeps him from appearing like a cardboard cutout of a Ken doll.

No, he isn’t perfect. Who needs perfect?

But it’s not his good looks alone that capture my attention. He bears a look about him of danger, as if he lives life on the edge. Yet in his coffee-colored eyes he wears a cloak of calm composure.

He has something under control, but what it is, I’m too afraid to discover.

He’s hot—like the diamond I lifted from the counter of Tiffany’s.

And his British accent only completes the package.

Oh, no, from start to finish this information isn’t telling us about the hero’s looks. A few well-placed paragraph breaks and the reader is shown a very indepth look at the heroine. Even the seemingly innocuous last line lets the reader know that despite her reservations, she’s still going to pursue her man. And why shouldn’t she? Our little jewel thief is as dangerous as the hero.

And that’s how styling your paragraphs can take your writing to an entirely different level.

Until next week, happy editing!

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