…can leap tall tales with a single bound, is faster than a speeding gerund, is stronger than the strongest adjective. In the wrong hands, it can make your tale hard to follow. In the write hands, paragraphs can become a page-turner. Let’s be blunt: well-written paragraphs can be the best tool in your kit. How so?
Consider a paragraph to be a single idea. It can build on the idea of a previous paragraph. It can lead to the idea of the next paragraph. It can contain a completely self-contained, stand-alone idea. And, with a bit of finesse, it can blend things, (although the more unique the separate subject sentences within a paragraph, the more you might consider awarding them their own separate paragraphs).
First, an example, then a bit of analysis:
“The third Thursday of every month was the best day. Keith put off all appointments until Friday. Steve moved his appointments forward to Wednesday. Henry made a psychiatrist’s appointment every third Thursday morning just to be able to cope with Keith’s passion and Steve’s agression. But, whether from inability to agree on a different day, a lack of imagination, a mutual gob of intolerance, for any of a number of possibilities, it became accepted among them that the third Thursday was the day they would get together and argue over who had to go to the nursing home and take Mother for a drive on the third Saturday, a filial task that at different times had led each of them to drink, drugs, bad women, flirtation with suicidal thoughts, and frequent review of life expectancy charts. Mother didn’t think any of them had turned out very well.”
What have we just done? We wrote a paragraph about one idea – Mother has driven the boys crazy. How did we do it?
A team-player paragraph has a topic sentence. The topic sentence might be the first sentence, in which case every sentence that follows should refer to or build on the topic. The paragraph could have several sentences that reflect different individual concepts or facts but which, collectively relate to one another and are summarized in a topic sentence. The topic sentence might be sneaked in to play in the middle or wrap things up at the end. But, there should only be one. Which is the topic sentence of the sample paragraph?
Next, a traditional paragraph has unity. Not only does the paragraph reflect a central idea, each sentence reflects on the idea without repeating it. In our sample, the individual sentences focus on one member of the family at a time– the three sons and their mother – while saying something different about each. Collectively, why the sons would go to such trouble over a single event explains, and is explained by, the paragraph’s topic idea: Mother is toxic.
Finally, a good paragraph can serve as a bridge. In the example, that the three brothers were doing soething together – meeting –is a bridge to what they do – argue. That in turn is a bridge to their mother. The four, collectively, bridge to the notion that doing things with mother reflects all their dysfunction: they are all a bit crazy.
Try it. Write out the idea of your paragraph, then write a few sentences to flesh out the idea. Next, try moving the topic sentence around within the draft to see whether it works best as a hypothesis (in which the first sentence states the idea and the balance ‘prove’ it) or as a result (a topic sentence nearer the end in which it sums up the evidence of the other sentences). Then, to test it, write the paragraph that precedes it and the paragraph that follows. Each should stand alone, yet led to the next or flow from the last. Before long, the ideas will flow, the sentences will flow, and the paragraphs will lead to your page-turner.
Enjoy. And, sorry for the puns. Write on.