Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Construction of a Paragraph

When Night Falls, Romantic Suspense.

With all the buzz going around about Harlequin's letter to those "actively writing", I'm sure you'll want more information on that. I belong to Author's Guild, a necessity for published writers and Ninc. Both provide excellent information and help.

Keep in mind that once a contract is signed, that's it. But the translation of terms can be extremely quasi, depending on who's doing the translation.

Then, there's Passive Guy at The Passive Voice, who has a lot to say about everything professional, especially e-rights and self-publishing which top sellers, are leaping into, a real must read. And very intense. I mean, A Real Must Read.
Those are my 2 high points as if this date.

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Secondary, but highly important to writing is paragraph construction. I just went over this with a writer-friend. She believed that if someone is still speaking, all dialogue within successive dialogue, should be in one paragraph.

As I update and edit my early books, I'm finding that I had the same editorial problem as many do today: placing dialogue amid paragraph narrative.

So let's go there: 1.) If dialogue is placed within paragraph narrative, it loses impact. 2.) However, (there's always an exception) if it is quoted dialogue, it's a quasi deal, depending on feel. Feel is really important, but we're not going there today.

First paragraph basics:
*In dialogue, Jane's voice can be tagged by action, such as, "I can help you." Jane looked directly into Mary's eyes, and took her hand. "I really can. Just tell me what happened."

When Mary looked away and withdrew her hand, Jane knew she couldn't lose this one brief opportunity. "Mary, please tell me."

!Let's take this apart. We know Jane is still speaking in both paragraphs by placing a tag line. Action can do as well. But see what is lost in impact, when running the dialogue together:
"I can help you." Jane looked directly into Mary's eyes and took her hand. "I really can." When Mary looked away and withdrew her hand, Jane knew she couldn't this one brief opportunity. "Mary, please tell me."

!Jane is still speaking, and tag lines define who is speaking.
!A tag line can be the name of the other person, i.e. Mary. If it is, no other motion, tag line is needed.
!Now. In a running conversation, tag lines define the speaker. They are not needed for a 2-4(maybe) of short repartee.
!In today's books and epublishing we are looking at shorter paragraphs than years ago. In some paperbacks, (choosing them for size demonstrations), one page can consist of 2 paragraphs. That's a lot to wade through and hold today's readers' attention. We move fast now, chugging right through excessive wording.
!The Ultr-Most important point in dialogue is that the reader knows who is speaking.
Back to Jane's dialogue: In the middle quote, Jane is pressing Mary, thus her reinforcement for impact.

So what about structure of the paragraph for Impact?

The structure of a paragraph, the beginning/middle/end sentences, is highly important.
One of my characteristic rough-draft problems, and everyone has them, is writing for the gusto, getting that story down and alive. (If you're a dreck-writer, be proud. It takes dreck, actually getting the story down on paper, to create a story. Then edit. I need a T-shirt that says, Dreck Writer and Proud of It.)

In rough-draft narrative, I sometimes place the most important sentence of a paragraph at the end, or at the beginning. This is one of the first editing skills I learned. A former editor taught me to place numbers over each line in the paragraph. It's a decision of which should lead, which should end. The weight of the sentence determines its placement. Thus, sentence 3 may really belong in position One. Especially if sentence 3 applies more to the previous paragraph.

By using this method, the construction is more orderly. Excess, superfluous sentences are also recognized. Superfluous Guys cut impact; they absolutely sink it.

So how does one paragraph fit within the chapter, the book?

Ordering paragraphs within a chapter is also important: those building emotion, those dropping dead body/twists.

Sentence Tip: If you have more than 1-2 clauses within a sentence, look at it critically. Watch clauses beginning with to/thats/whens/thens/ands/buts, etc.

I mentioned The Feel of the story.

But that's for another post :)


Jeff Rivera said...

Those are very helpful tips I sure could use to keep reminding me of how to deliver dialogues. I always want to establish a relationship with the readers through dialogues. Thanks Cait.

Angela Drake said...

You're right, Cait, we don't see enough of this instruction in workshops. Thank you for this mini-course.

Cait London said...

Jeff and Angela, thank you both: Eons ago, when editors had more time, they worked with authors more. I had an excellent starting editor back in the day. Today's editorial positions include overloads, and somewhere along the line, a lot of what could be taught, isn't. We may read published incorrect material and come to accept it as passable. Just sayin' :)

Barb H said...

Nice post, Cait. Arranging dialogue w/in paragraphs or narrative stretches is very important. I like your noting of action tags, too. Thanks.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Wonderfully, helpful suggestions!
The tags that follow the dialogue help to avoid "ly" adverbs which have been demonized of late. They identify the speaker with action that helps readers visualize the scene.

Jacqueline Seewald
Tea Leaves and Tarot Cards
The Truth Sleuth
Stacy's Song

Laurence Brown said...

Awesome Mini-course Cait! This is true, getting in direct contact with the readers is absolutely a must!

Cait said...

Thanks, Jacqueline and Laurence. I'm hoping these tidbits and those in my Writer and Writer Survival Guides help someone. Writing is part hand-me-down crafting and I'm happy when I can help.