We don't discuss grammar and spelling. We make those comments on printed copies and return those to the authors. These written comments raised several questions in my mind. I'm going to limit this post to one of them: What are the rules about paragraph structure in fiction?
This question came up when I noticed that seven out of seven critquers did not like my paragraphs - especially any paragraph deemed to be long. If all seven had agreed on how the long passages should be chunked, the question may not have reared its ugly head. However, seven critiquers generally provided seven different approaches to paragraphing.
Here is one example from an original draft:
It would have been ever so gracious of her to at least cross the threshold before she started in on me. But then, she wouldn’t be our Ms. Ruth, now, would she? She greeted me with, “It’s about time, girlee. Don’t you know any better than to keep Mrs. Weaver’s guests waiting on the sidewalk like commoners?” She always called Ms. Weaver “Mrs.” I guess she knew Ms. Weaver was never married and hated to be called “Mrs.” Anyway, Ms. Ruth took a breath and stepped in before ordering me to the kitchen. “I’m parched from having to breathe all that dust. You should know by now not to leave your betters standing around on the street while you do God knows what. You hustle on into that kitchen and fetch me a large iced tea. Make it sweet and don’t even think about charging me for it. It’s your fault I’m so thirsty.”I obviously thought one paragraph would do here. One critiquer agreed with me and made no marks.
Four critiquers thought this should be broken into two paragraphs, but offered four different break points. Three of those focused on the dialogue and one suggested the second paragraph begins with "Anyway, Ms. Ruth took a breath...."
One person thought I needed three paragraphs and one thought I needed four.
This example is not an exception, it is typical of the paragraphing comments I'm receiving. So, I researched. I checked my trusted Chicago Manual of Style - which disappointed me for the first time in a very long time. Chicago was silent on paragraph rules (or I simply wasn't smart enough to locate the information). I Googled. I even cracked open several of the writing and grammar books parked on the corner of my desk. Did I find anything definitive? No.
So, I have some questions for you.
1) Are there rules for paragraph structure in fiction? If yes, where can I read them?
2) If you were editing (or writing) the above example, how many paragraphs would you create? Why?
Charlotte Phillips is the co-author of the Eva Baum Detective Series, 2009 President for The Final Twist Writers Group and contributor to multiple blogs. Learn more about Charlotte and her books at:
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