Paragraphs (Part 1)

Within a paragraph, there must be variety. And by variety, I mean sentences in different forms. Different forms of sentences create rhythm. We want rhythm for flow, but we also want to vary that rhythm to create contrast.

Why is contrast good?

Contrast creates emphasis. Punctuation helps, but don’t rely solely on that. Too many commas weigh down a paragraph. Not enough limits the imagination. And there are only so many times you can use a dash or colon before a reader gets frustrated. I’m guilty of excessive dashing.

One great way to add contrast to rhythm is to toss in a sentence fragment.

Sentence fragments are short bits of information. They are to the point and create a forceful break in rhythm. Fragments imply, giving the reader the joy of using their own imagination. It’s important to give the reader just enough information and then let their minds fill in the rest. If you don’t allow for this, then your technique is more in line with Victorian Realism writing. And that style bores the reader fast.

A story is externalized thoughts of a writer – their creativity in ink on paper – but those thoughts are then internalized by readers. Describing every detail is like holding a reader’s hand from cover to cover, but not just holding – gripping so tightly they can’t stray an inch. (Did you notice this paragraph has varied sentence forms, but too many dashes?)

Let’s take another glance at my prologue and find where I broke my rhythm with a sentence fragment.

“Vagabonds and thieves were placed under surveillance for every kind of election, but for one of this prominence, they were rounded up and arrested for the smallest infraction. All eyes would be on the capital from now until the election. The government wanted to keep the streets clean and the city safe until the scrutiny eased. A waste of resources.”

The Lost City of Al-Kimiya, Prologue

By ending with a fragment, I’ve broken the rhythm to emphasize the negative impact an election has on a city. My fragment implies a lot: taxation, constable’s time and energy, inconvenience to city residents, etc.

In natural conversation, we often speak in fragments. It would only make sense that dialogue would be full of sentence fragments too. Here are some in the prologue:

One hundred million tollárs. That’s enough to travel around the world on a first-class airship a thousand times. Enough to buy a small city. She’s set to inherit the rest, which is rumored to be ten times as much, on her twenty-fifth birthday.”

Ricky Dickson, The Lost City of Al-Kimiya

In that example, there are two sentence fragments. The beginning of the paragraph sets the tone for Ricky Dickson’s dialogue as well as the subject: money. The second fragment is in the middle and implies that a thousand first-class airship tickets cost as much as a small city and that Zenetra Noire could afford both. The longer, varied sentence that follows explains that the “one million tollárs” is just a fraction of what Zenetra will inherit in the end.

Writers are imaginative. So are readers. Give them the opportunity to use their own imagination.