Hello ladies and gentlemen, how do I find you today? Well I hope, or at the very least, not bad.
Today I need to ask for advice and share something that I would rather not. We all have faults, and we all have things we are not so good at. Never the less it can sometimes be difficult to openly admit them. I shall swallow my pride and tell you all my dirty little secret right here, live as it were, on the interwebs.
I recently finished a draft and preliminary edit on a novella I have written and asked my partner to proof read it for me. It turns out…that may have been a mistake. I am what could largely be described as a self taught writer, I read and I write for myself learning as I go. I have never had any formal tuition beyond primary and secondary school. My partner on the other hand is a PhD student with a stellar academic background. Her job is essentially reading and writing to a very high standard.
When I asked her to proof read my work. I expected a lot of corrections on coma placement, the use of semicolons and other assorted things. What I did not expect was the bombshell I received, something which I feel rather ashamed to admit as a writer, but feel I must to move forward. I cannot write paragraphs, at least, I cannot write paragraphs in a way that would be acceptable in academic works.
Thinking of myself as a writer it really shook me to be told this. As a native English speaker I would have thought that paragraphs are just one of those things that I could DO without really having to think about it. Finding that I can write (in my opinion) very good dialogue with relative ease and yet struggle with something so basic, has shaken me. That might sound a little over dramatic but I do not think it is. I should think it would be the same as telling a professional hairdresser that they have been holding scissors incorrectly for the last twenty years.
So, I decided to go out and visit some bookshops. I looked for books on grammar and punctuation, both for native speakers and English learners. To my surprise there didn’t seem to be anything regarding paragraphs to be found anywhere. I guess the rest of the world thinks paragraphs are as easy as I always thought they were. From now onwards I will be reading like a writer, rather than a reader. Closely inspecting paragraphs to try and find rules and patterns that I may have missed before.
So, before I ask humbly for your help, I shall tell you what I know…or at the least, what I think I know.
1) You must start a new paragraph when you change scenes, E.g. going from outside to inside a house.
2) You must change paragraph when a new character speaks.
3) You must change paragraphs if you are talking about a new idea.
In principle this seems easy and sensible to me, alas, I was informed many of my paragraphs. At least in this piece of work, were split too frequently. Several short paragraphs easily could have been one more complete and easier to read paragraph. I understand that in fiction there are less hard and fast rules and style comes into it a lot more, that being said, I do not want anyone to feel my work does not flow because of poor use of paragraphs.
Any advice would be GREATLY appreciated in the comments, and by all means if anyone knows of any resources then please let me know.