The Importance of Paragraphs

Hi Folks,

While glancing over the internet awhile back for items of interest, I checked in on a blog I’d saved in my bookmarks but hadn’t looked at recently.

When I save one in my bookmarks, it’s because I hope it will provide valuable, or at least valid, information.

A writer posed this implied question:

I have trouble trying to figure out when to begin and end paragraphs and when to have dialogue included in the paragraph and when to have it stand on its own as an independent paragraph.

The author of the blog, Marilyn Byerly, was correct as far as she went. I refer you to her “rules of thumb” in the post and her summation:

As long as the reader is clear about what is happening and the page isn’t covered by long paragraphs, he won’t even notice when you paragraph.

However, I disagree with her penultimate statement:

On the whole issue of paragraphing, don’t be too uptight about it.

Certainly the use and length of paragraphs isn’t something to “be uptight” about to the point that you lose sleep, but paragraphing is important.

In fact, paragraphing is easily among the more important factors to consider in writing every commercial genre of fiction.

Since paragraph use and length go directly to pacing, here’s my own addition to Ms. Byerly’s rules of thumb:

For reference, I define shorter paragraphs as 5 lines (not sentences) or fewer. Medium paragraphs are 5-8 lines. Longer paragraphs are, well, longer than 8 lines.

Readers read more quickly through shorter paragraphs. Or another way to say it, shorter paragraphs draw readers through a story more quickly. Hence their widespread use in thrillers.

You will also find a lot of medium paragraphs in thrillers. When you find longer paragraphs (lengthy descriptions, mental/psychological stuff), the writer is giving the reader a “break” from the breakneck pace.

I hasten to add, this is not a “conscious” decision while the writer is writing. It’s something he “feels” or senses as he’s writing. It comes out through his subconscious, creative mind as he types.

But he can only sense it because he learned it (with his conscious, critical mind) in the first place. In all things writing, learn with the conscious mind and apply with the creative mind.

At the opposite end of the scale from thrillers, “literary” works (Latin magic realism, for example) is filled with medium and longer paragraphs and sentences and more poetic prose. Again, there’s a purpose. The longer sentences and paragraphs force the reader to linger.

(I tout my own magic realism stories as those that occur on that far horizon where reality folds into imagination.)

In a well-paced mystery (including cozy) the paragraphs will be a more “normal” smattering of shorter (dialogue and tense situations) and medium. Chances are, you will find very few (if any) long paragraphs.

Most of the other commercial genres are paced about the same, though you might find a few more long paragraphs in mainstream and period (bosom-heaving) romance.

And just in case you’re wondering, the above is valid for short stories as well as novels.

I hope this helps.

By the way, there’s an exciting new blog in town. Drop by Pro Writers Writing at and check it out. There, several indie writers share their insights and knowledge on all aspects of writing and publishing.

‘Til next time, happy writing!


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2 thoughts on “The Importance of Paragraphs”

  1. I like this, especially “I hasten to add, this is not a “conscious” decision while the writer is writing. It’s something he “feels” or senses as he’s writing. It comes out through his subconscious, creative mind as he types.” Writing has always been a feeling for me, and it’s good to know it applies to paragraphing as well.

    • Exactly. Once you learn anything new that works for you, it seeps into your subconscious. We don’t consciously think of crossing our T’s or dotting our I’s or adding a period at the end of a sentence. It’s the same way with paragraphing and all other aspects of writing once we take them on board.

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