Relationship to Paragraphs

September 10th, 2012 by Potato

I’m going off to a writer’s conference soon, where I will attend a few workshops. There’s some preparatory homework for each, which consist of some readings and assignment questions. Plus, there are some little surveys for the instructors to get to know us and our writing level: what’s your job, what’s your experience, what do you hope to learn, etc. One question though I just simply can’t take seriously. I turn it over in my head and I can’t seem to make sense of it — surely it must be there as bait for ridicule. Right?

Are you involved with paragraphs? What is the nature of your involvement?

Paragraphs and I are on speaking terms, to be sure. Work colleagues who get together to accomplish the task, nod respectfully to each other on our way out the door at 5 o’clock, and spare not another thought for the other once home. Nothing like the decades-long love affair I’ve had with punctuation – that is a relationship where the passion has never run low. We have our routine, our commas and periods, but punctuation is always ready to spice things up with something from the back of the cupboard – em-dashes are a particularly naughty twist – in ways that surprise and titillate. The sentences flow, with direction for effective oral recitation; logical demarcation is a happy side effect.

My companionship with punctuation aside, paragraphs are important in my writing and editing. Paragraphs work with me to organize information contained across several sentences into a consumable quantum for the reader. Mostly I throw a pile of sentences on the desktop, and paragraphs will pile them up on the page. More often than not I take a quick glance at paragraphs’ work, declare it to be “good enough for government work” and we move along with the day’s proceedings. On rare occasions, we will put our heads together to work more closely and carefully on a tricky project.

Grants in particular require that paragraphs and I maintain constant vigilance on the efforts of the scientists to fill every last square millimeter of page space with information. Left to their own devices they would remove paragraph breaks entirely, simply to avoid wasting the whitespace that accumulates at the foreshortened end of each terminating line.

Yet that is itself a waste of paragraph’s potential.

To demarcate points and – sparingly – add emphasis (emotional or otherwise) when used in such foreshortened forms are powerful abilities. More importantly, effective paragraphing makes a large block of text skimmable. The impact of that point is not to be overlooked when grant reviewers will be going through a large stack of applications, searching quickly to determine whether the evaluation criteria have been met.

Further to the emotional power of solitary lines is the poetry of paragraphs. Alliteration and rhyme can be suggestive; metaphor and nonsense confirmatory. Paragraphs, however, are the true bridge between poetry and prose. Though I respect the weekend dalliances along those lines – and certainly appreciate the displays of mastery when I happen to catch a sample in the papers – paragraphs and I do share in those sorts of proclivities. No matter the curiosity that may from time to time seep into my dreams, or the rare, furtive glances I cast at paragraphs’ perfect silhouette.

It is all business between us, you see.

One Response to “Relationship to Paragraphs”

  1. Potato Says:

    What resources (books, articles, samples, experience) can you bring to the class that might be of value to others?

    None. I am a thoroughly useless human being (at least as concerns the finer aspects of paragraphing theory). Besides which, I am Canadian, and the ruthless TSA will strip me of any useful books, articles, samples, or experiences I attempt to bring into country (regarding the latter: it is widely known that Homeland Security possesses a state-of-the-art memory eraser).