Tag Archives: plot structure

Ending Paragraphs at the Right Place

Hmmm. Is that the right paragraph length?

Although paragraph structure challenges writers, it is essential not only to help organize the content logically but also to keep the reader interested to the end of the document. On the other hand, if paragraphs are not structured well, the reader will have difficulty understanding the ideas being presented and will be unlikely to respond as you wish.

You need to know when to break the paragraph. Two of the most common problems I encounter when editing academic papers are paragraphs that are incomplete and paragraphs that are too expansive. While editing a graduate student’s paper recently, I came across a paragraph that was nearly 1.5 pages long. That, alone, is not a problem. A paragraph can be quite long, or quite short, and still accomplish its purpose—but only if it follows two essential principles.

1. A paragraph discusses one, and only one, idea.
2. A paragraph provides a transition to the next idea. Continue reading

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“Commas for Lunch”, a free on-line workshop.

Learn to use commas correctly, leading to professional and clear writing. “Commas for Lunch”, a one-hour on-line course by David Bowman, chief editor of Precise Edit. Date: Sept. 24, 2010 Time: 1:00 p.m. EST. 18 seat maximum Attendance is Free. COURSE FULL.

Stay tuned–We’ll do this again.

UPDATE: 0 Seats remain.

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Dependent & Independent Clauses

True or False: a Dependent Clause does not have a Subject-Verb relationship?

Occasionally, we answer questions on Yahoo! Answers. Below is our response to the question in the title of this blog, chosen as “best” by Yahoo! voters.

Our Answer

False. By definition, a clause has a subject-verb combination, whether it is dependent or independent. Perhaps you are thinking of a phrase, which does not have the subject-verb combination.

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Restoring the Power of Clichés

How a cliché becomes a cliché

When a particular cliché was first used (before it became a cliché), it created an impact. It used words in an interesting and novel way. The person who heard or read the expression might have thought, “Gosh, that’s a really creative way to express that idea.” Then, when other people began to use that expression, they were not clever; they were copycats. Having no interesting ideas of their own, they used someone else’s idea. When many people do this, the once clever expression became a cliché. Continue reading

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Writing Great Paragraphs

All writing requires both creative thinking and technical proficiency. On the far technical side, you have the mechanics of writing, such as knowing how to apply punctuation and grammar rules. On the far creative side, you have the development of ideas and new story lines. Combining these two into a written form that deeply engages your reader and effectively communicates your thoughts requires both sides. This synergy between creativity and technicality is most apparent in the paragraph. Regardless of the type of writing you produce, you have to pay attention to your paragraphs.

1. Basic Paragraph Components

Let’s think about the two basic components of all paragraphs and then examine how we may use them for effective writing.

a. The idea: One paragraph = one central idea. Has someone ever said to you, “Hey, you’ve got a good point there”? Well, that’s what your paragraph does. It makes a point, one point, which is the central idea of the paragraph. You might think of it as the purpose for the paragraph. That one point of a paragraph may be supported by several other ideas, and the paragraph, itself, may be written to support a broader idea, but its purpose remains the same. It stands alone as the vehicle to express one complete idea to the reader.

b. The support: Paragraphs must have both external and internal support for the central idea. External support means the way the central idea of the paragraph connects to the ideas prior to and following the paragraph. (This is called external support because it provides a reason for the central idea to be expressed.) Another way to describe what we mean by “external support” is the way you link the paragraph to its context. Internal support is how the content within a paragraph connects to its central idea. As an analogy, think about branches on a tree. The central idea is the branch. The external support is the main trunk, and the internal support is the leaves that grow from the branch.

If you extend this analogy a bit, you see how branches (i.e., ideas) are connected to each other. Some paragraphs are quite long because, for the purpose of this analogy, the author chose a big branch that has smaller branches growing from it. Some are quite short because the author chose the smallest identifiable branch. In both cases, however, the paragraph has internal and external support.

Since this article is about what happens inside paragraphs, we’ll make the assumption that the idea is clear and focus on the support–what happens inside a paragraph. How do you make those internal and external supports work to express the idea? Continue reading

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Solving Common Dialogue Problems

Dialogue is an essential component of a story. Through dialogue, we learn about characters’ personalities, we see characters react to events, and we understand the relationships they have with each other. Dialogue allows the reader to visualize scenes. Authors use dialogue to follow the adage “show, don’t tell” what happens. 

When we help authors edit manuscripts, we frequently have to solve three common problems with dialogue:

  1. confusion,
  2. stasis, and
  3. displacement.

We use these terms to categorize the three strategies we use to improve dialogue. To help understand these common dialogue problems, let’s look at an example of poor dialogue, study how it illustrates these problems, and then find solutions. 

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What Do Your Characters Want?

The most important element in a story is conflict. If your story does not have a central conflict, you don’t actually have a story—you have a picture, a static description of people and places. Without conflict, you won’t have a reason for events to occur. And you will bore your reader.

The basis of conflict is the difference between what your character has and what he wants. Something must be wrong with the character’s personality, perspective, relationships, circumstances, or abilities. The character with a conflict will be in a state of unease and dissatisfaction. The purpose of the story, therefore, is to show how the character reaches a state of satisfaction. This is true for both fiction and nonfiction.


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