Writing Logistics: Paragraph Length

Andrew Scott

Andrew Scott

Copywriter

Freelance Copywriter

14

Jun, 2018

We’ve all learned the golden rule for paragraphs; 5 sentences, the first is an opener and the last is a closer. However, this rule isn’t really that golden when it comes to writing fiction, or non-fiction for that matter.

Sure, when you’re writing non-fiction, you should think about structure and make sure your points come across detailed and organized, but that’s still not to say they have to be the same length or structure each and every time. Some paragraphs are there to add information, others to persuade, and some to give the writer to think, which means no two paragraphs should ever look identical.

So, what is the ideal paragraph length?

Is There an Ideal Paragraph Length?

Especially when writing fiction, a paragraph can be as long or short as you like. There are stylistic rules, such as “a paragraph should contain two to three sentences and not take up more than half a page,” but they can be extremely minimalistic too, as long as they serve a purpose.

The paragraph is a building block of a story. Just like a chapter and a scene, it should add to the reader’s knowledge of the action or a character and should serve to increase interest while dictating the pace of the story. Just think about how quickly your eyes flit over dialogue on a page, or how short bursting paragraphs can carry you off on a torrent of action.

“The paragraph is a building block of a story. Just like a chapter and a scene, it should add to the reader’s knowledge of the action or a character and should serve to increase interest while dictating the pace of the story.”

Short Vs. Long

A paragraph can have many different purposes. Short paragraphs are excellent for increasing the speed of the story and for portraying the erratic thoughts of a character caught in a tight spot. Longer paragraphs give the reader the chance to delve into the mindset or rationale of a character or situation and come out of it with all the information they need to continue with the story.

In this way, longer paragraphs give the reader a rest and the writer a chance to shape the reader’s understanding before increasing the pace again.

Paragraph length is less important than what it says.

Which is Better?

Either way, a carefully crafted paragraph can give the reader a sense of the stress a character is feeling. They involve the reader in emotional or physical turmoil by giving them just enough information to be invested and intrigued.


This is the final post for our Length series. If you haven’t had a chance yet, check out the posts on Novel Length, Chapter Length, and Scene Length. Don’t forget to drop a comment and let us know your thoughts!

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