When we look beyond story, we see structure. We can break a short story or novel down to scenes or chapters. Each is made up of words, sentences and paragraphs, held together by punctuation.
Together, these create a wonderful narrative river, an unbroken stream of text on the page that draws the reader deeper and deeper into a story world from which we can’t escape.
Sometimes we try to cram everything in one long sentence. Like trying to cram a two litre Coca Cola into a 500ml buddy bottle, it’s bound to turn into a sticky mess.
Let’s look at paragraphs and see how we can build these to create stronger scenes. A paragraph is made up of sentences and each of these sentences has some heavy lifting to do.
Create Power Paragraphs For Stronger Storytelling
Spotlight on sentences
The dominant sentence is the first and most important in any paragraph. Follow me, it says as it marks the trail ahead. And readers will happily follow what comes after this sentence. Strong and unambiguous, it holds the other sentences in the paragraph together with a single idea.
For example: Our one-year anniversary is tonight.
The flow sentences tease out the adventure promised by the dominant sentence. Think of these sentences as a tribe or a waterfall. They cascade together as naturally as possible to create the flow, rhythm – the energy – that makes your paragraph come alive.
For example: I’ve planned the celebration down to the last detail. Two tickets to La Boheme. Dinner at our Aroon, our favourite Thai restaurant, pricy but tonight is a special night. In the fridge, a bottle of good French bubbly. And I was up early to bake a chocolate cake to share in bed later.
The linking sentence ends a paragraph. If your story was running a relay race, this sentence is the runner who passes the baton to the next sentence. It shouldn’t break the narrative flow but, at the same time, rounds out the idea of the paragraph it is leaving behind – or even tease out a bit of mystery or suspense.
For example: One plate, two spoons – a good metaphor for the first twelve months of divorcedom.
The call-out sentence is paragraph in its own right. It stands alone. It stands out. Isolated in its own space, it draw the eye and magnetises the reader’s attention without resorting to mad exclamation marks. Sometimes it can serve as a linking sentence or simply as a stand-alone dominant sentence.
For example: Jake and I split up this day last year and we’ve never been happier.
In the end, this is what your page will start to look like:
Our one-year anniversary is tonight. I’ve planned the celebration down to the last detail. Two tickets to La Boheme. Dinner at our Aroon, our favourite Thai restaurant, pricy but tonight is a special night. In the fridge, a bottle of good French bubbly. And I was up early to bake a chocolate cake to share in bed later. One plate, two spoons – a good metaphor for the first twelve months of divorcedom.
Jake and I split up this day last year and we’ve never been happier.
From the above, you can see how the dominant sentence sets up the idea of the anniversary celebration in a simple and clear way. The flow sentences pick up the thread and give detail about it, while the linking sentence sets up the premise of the scene and draws our attention to the next idea set up in the call-out sentence – the idea of a divorced couple discovery post-separation bliss.
Add to toolbox
Structure is what holds a story together. It is craft.
Once we know the role each sentence plays in paragraph building, we will get to create strong scenes and powerful stories.
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