As mentioned in the previous article one of the functions of the paragraph is to change time and subject. A common way to do this is to drop in a ‘suddenly’ but, going back to the rule of repetition, too many appearances of ‘suddenly’ draws attention to it and not everything can happen suddenly. This doesn’t mean we should simply change it for another word such as ‘abruptly’ which has the same meaning and effect. Obviously when we change subject we don’t always want to do it suddenly and a large period of time passing isn’t sudden.
The easiest way to work out where a new paragraph should begin is where we change subject or time. We may, for instance, be describing part of the setting which leads into the subject of backstory and in the case of back story we may even have a change in time. In which case it would be easiest to break the paragraph and show the reader than we have changed the subject. Once again it increases clarity for the reader and makes the story easier to follow then lumping it all into one paragraph might. For example:
The table was worn with age, an antique that had been in the attic for years and hadn’t seen a duster for most of them.
Jane’s mother had brought the table from an antique fair but Jane had never liked it and moved the table to the attic in exchange for a modern glass one.
Once again, for the sake of my word count, my example is shorter than your paragraphs might be but the point is the same. By creating a break between describing the table and how the table came to be in the attic the reader can clearly tell we’re on two different subjects, were I to write it a little longer I could even make it two different time frames with a flashback related to the table. Once again we may not always want to do this but if we at least begin this way we can see what we’ve got and in editing we could put the two together if we thought it read better that way.
As for ‘suddenly’ often it is unnecessary, the suddenness of the act is implied by the events. This doesn’t mean we can never use suddenly but we should be sparing with it because the emphasis repetition creates can begin to irritate a reader. There is also the issue that also we say ‘suddenly’ it doesn’t actually create suddenness:
Suddenly, Jane stepped out of the shadows.
Jane stepped out of the shadows.
All we’re really done is add an extra word that tells us of a suddenness that is implied so doesn’t particularly add anything to the story. In the context of a longer piece of writing the suddenly might make it less sudden because it introduces the act creating a pause and a lead up, whereas without the ‘suddenly’ it just happens… suddenly.
Another way to create suddenness is to vary the paragraph lengths a short punchy paragraph is more abrupt than a long one. If we wanted we could heighten the suddenness by having ‘Jane stepped out of the shadows’ a one line paragraph. A one line paragraph draws attention and creates emphasis or a series of short paragraphs creates speed. We could even have a single word paragraph:
Suddenly there was a bang
One word on one line in this context gives more suddenness and emphasis than writing ‘Suddenly there was a bang’. As the saying goes, less is more.
As with any literary tool short paragraphs can be overused because too many might make the story move too fast where we might want it to move slower with longer paragraphs and longer sentences but this can all be worked on during editing.
The important thing to remember is that the primary purpose of using paragraphs is to create clarity. The more effectively we utilise paragraphs the clearer our writing becomes.
NOTE: Each article series comes in five parts published between Monday and Friday. This is the last article in this series.