• Jennifer Laffin

Paragraphs: Give Us a Break {Writer's Toolkit Series}




I’d like to try a little experiment. Please read the following two passages.


Passage #1:

The birds gathered at the feeder, each one eager for their chance to gather some seeds. There was a snowstorm last night, leaving a blanket of white covering the dried grasses and branches and hiding any source of food that the birds could find on their own. But the bird feeder would be their saving grace. As they waited their turn, they chirped greetings to each other. The fat mourning doves sat beneath the feeder, gathering any seeds that dropped to the earth from the other too-eager birds. This would be their morning ritual until spring. But then the feeling at the feeder changed. A large Blue Jay swooped in, its brisk squawk not sounding like the sweet chips of the other birds. It squawked again, sending another warning, as the birds waiting on the branches tightened up their feathers. The Jay moved toward the feeder. The other birds scattered. Even the fat mourning dove flew away.


Passage #2:

The birds gathered at the feeder, each one eager for their chance to gather some seeds. There was a snowstorm last night, leaving a blanket of white covering the dried grasses and branches and hiding any source of food that the birds could find on their own. But the bird feeder would be their saving grace.

As they waited their turn, they chirped greetings to each other. The fat mourning doves sat beneath the feeder, gathering any seeds that dropped to the earth from the other too-eager birds. This would be their morning ritual until spring.

But then the feeling at the feeder changed. A large Blue Jay swooped in, its brisk squawk not sounding like the sweet chips of the other birds. It squawked again, sending another warning, as the birds waiting on the branches tightened up their feathers. The Jay moved toward the feeder.

The other birds scattered.

Even the fat mourning dove flew away.

Now that you've read both passages, think about the following questions:

  1. Which passage was less tiring to read?

  2. Which passage was easier to understand?

  3. How did you feel after reading both passages?

If you are like me, you found the second passage easier to read and understand. Why? Because it had paragraphs. It gave my brain a chance to process what I was reading before bombarding me with the next idea.


Using paragraphs correctly is an important skill for all writers because it makes the reader’s job much easier and more pleasant.



Why Paragraphs?


Paragraphs exist to give the readers’ eyes a rest and a few seconds to process what they’ve read before they start the next line. Paragraphs signal that a change is coming. They tie common sentences together in one neat little area.


Readers expect them. Readers need them.



When paragraphs are missing, it is noticed.




The New-New Rule


But how do writers know when to start a new paragraph?


Use the New-New Rule. It's easy to remember and goes like this:

  • New idea = New paragraph

  • New character speaking = New paragraph

  • New place = New paragraph

  • New information = New paragraph

  • New focus point = New paragraph

  • New character enters the scene = New paragraph

  • New ___ = New paragraph

See the pattern?


Teaching writers the purposes for paragraphing and the New-New Rule will get them thinking about their writing and how it affects their reader.



A bonus -- their readers will appreciate it!









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