Yes, I'm still here. Once again, life has been getting in the way of my blogging. But I was working on a manuscript just now and wanted to share something I've been meaning to blog about for a long time.
As much as I enjoy thumbing my nose at the "writing rules" splashed all over the internet and yammered about in critique groups and at writers workshops, I have imposed at least one such rule on myself: No paragraph can be longer than ten manuscript lines. Ever.
When one of my paragraphs begins to approach ten lines, I roll up my sleeves and start yanking out words and trimming sentences. Why? Not because of anything I learned in a workshop or a how-to-write book, and not because my editor makes me. I do it because of the way I read novels.
I am an unapologetic skimmer. When a chapter or scene of a novel I'm reading begins to grow tedious, I move on. My practiced eye zips down the page, down the next page, and so on until I find something that reengages my interest. What I'm looking for is a nice bit of "white space" created by a few short paragraphs or a snatch of dialogue, some convenient little hole in the page where I might burrow back into the story. Simply put, long paragraphs will be passed over, no matter how clever or evocative or informative they are.
Because I figure I'm not the only reader who behaves that way, I keep my paragraphs short. It's my hope that if a reader's interest begins to flag and she skips down a page or through one of my chapters, she won't go very far before she falls back into my story.
Ten manuscript lines. It's a completely arbitrary limit, but one I strictly adhere to. I adore long sentences, the kind that need a handful of commas and perhaps even an em-dash or a semicolon, but I can't abide long paragraphs. (At least, not in a contemporary novel. Authors like Henry James, Jane Austen, and even Georgette Heyer may ramble on as they please.)
I write in Courier New, 12 pt., with one-inch margins. A paragraph that takes up nine lines of my manuscript makes me worry. So on the rare occasion that I allow a ten-line paragraph to stand, I have a darn good reason for doing so.
It's often said that the internet encourages shorter attention spans, and I suspect there's a lot of truth in that, but I was an impatient reader long before I was exposed to the internet. So I'm going to stick with my pithy paragraphs.
Whether you're a reader or a writer, and especially if you read or write romance, how about leaving a comment to share your thoughts on paragraph length and "white space" in books?