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Emphasis through formatting?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Svrtnsse, Apr 10, 2015.

  1. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    Ahoy all,

    I've found that lately, I'm using paragraphs and line breaks to add more emphasis to something I want to say, and I'm curious how you guys feel about it. What I mean is that I write one, or a few, long-ish paragraph(s), with a handful or so sentenced in it (that's long for me), and then I add a single short sentence as a paragraph on its own.

    My think is that it will work a little bit in the same as when you mix up long and short sentences, except with paragraphs. It breaks up the monotony. It opens up the page, and it gives the reader time to breath. I also think it adds a bit more oomph to the short sentence. If something is so important that it gets an entire line of its, then it really must be important.

    Or is it?

    See what I did there? It may have been predictable, but it may still have worked. I began with two long paragraphs, and then a single short sentence that questioned everything that those paragraphs said - on its own line. Sure the paragraphs aren't super long here, but consider how it'd look on the page of a book, where the lines may be short, with less words in them.

    How do you feel about this technique for adding emphasis to your text? Does it work, does it not work, do you like it, does it bother you? I won't ask if it's right or wrong. I'm pretty sure it's a matter of taste and usage. Some of you may like it now and then, some of you won't like it at all, and most of you will probably not approve if it's overused.

  2. Trick

    Trick Auror

    I do this all the time for internal monologue so I can avoid italics and s/he thought. I don't know how good it is or how skilled I am at it but T.A.S. has never mentioned it in a negative way in the PaTW contests I did; he's a very thorough judge too.
    Svrtnsse likes this.
  3. T.Allen.Smith

    T.Allen.Smith Staff Moderator

    It's a fine way to add emphasis to narrative or dialogue. My only beef with it would be if a writer broke continuing dialogue off and the following sentence should've been a continuation of the same speaker. In that case, it'd be hard to identify the speaker and, as you know, I feel clarity is the most important aspect of writing.

    But, yes. I use this method. As with most techniques though, too many times, weakens the impact.
    Svrtnsse and Trick like this.
  4. Trick

    Trick Auror

    Another thing that comes to mind is audio books, which I love. Techniques like this make reading text and listening to the audio more similar in terms of experience and it probably also helps the professional readers determine the author's intent when it comes to impact on the reader. I know they set up their text differently than the book will be printed, for performance purposes, but starting off with usable formatting must be helpful. I always try to imagine my writing being read by a voice actor and it helps me keep it sounding natural - not sure how good I am at it, just that I'm better when I keep it in mind.
  5. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

    I think this is probably a good point. One common recommendation is to actually read your story out loud after you've finished the first draft. That way you can get a better feel for pacing and structure - or so I've heard.
  6. Gryphos

    Gryphos Auror

    I sometimes do something similar where I have a single sentence isolated in its own paragraph. It's a great way to add emphasis and I would certainly have no problem reading it. But, as others have likely stated, overuse of any technique will lead to a lessening of its effect.
  7. Tom

    Tom Istar

    I use it sometimes. I feel like interspersing short sentences in between longer paragraphs creates a rhythm that can underscore an idea or give a big reveal a lot of impact. It's sort of like the beat in a song--you have the longer paragraphs as drawn-out notes, which are snapped off by the short sentences for emphasis. Daaaaaa-dat. Daaaaaa-dat. (Sorry, stupidity.)

    And then you have all sorts of possibilities to play with when you experiment with that rhythm type--all sorts of different beats you can use to compliment different moods in the text. Short-long-short could be used to show a character (1) reacting to a sudden dilemma, (2) thinking it over, and (3) finding a solution. Long-long-short might lend itself to (1) setting the scene and introducing the character, (2) introducing the source of tension in the scene and building up the suspense/tension, and (3) showing the "snap" that happens when the tension breaks.

    I think I'm having far too much fun with this...
    Svrtnsse likes this.
  8. MineOwnKing

    MineOwnKing Maester

    I think spacing could act as a sort of semicolon, just don't overdo it.

    I have yet to see an editor break or condense one of my paragraphs. Either they don't look for issues with that or else they have complete faith in my skills.

    Because of their substantial editing fees, I myself have blind faith in them and rely on their expertise.

    I prefer the style of Melville, create one, long sentence and eliminate the paragraphs completely.
  9. wordwalker

    wordwalker Auror

    I'm a big fan of this method too.

    Consider the opposite: one of the stupidest things I've seen writers do is put an important event --especially a turning point-- in the middle of a paragraph. If it matters, it needs to be at the start or end, or at least a warning at the start so you're on full alert when it's clarified in the middle. ("Paragraphs are blades: a sharp line along the top and the bottom, plus different amounts between them to add heft.")

    One particular study of the trick is in horror and suspense; I highly recommend Horror Authors: How to Scare the Heck Out of Your Readers.

    And what all of this says for paragraphs is also true for sentences. Long sentences can get tiring, but short ones (say, ones with no preposition or second verb) are downright limited on their own. Good writing ought to look for ways to combine the two and build the rhythm you want. A "default" sentence length is a dangerous habit.
    T.Allen.Smith likes this.
  10. PaulineMRoss

    PaulineMRoss Inkling

    Yes, this is a great technique for making sure the reader notices an important point - a reveal, some important information, an increase in tension, whatever. I use it a lot in very dramatic moments, where the action level is ratcheting up. Shorter sentences and paragraphs help to keep the pages turning quickly.

    Quite apart from the emphasis idea, there's also the visual impact on the page, which is incredibly important. A single short line serves to break up a page that might otherwise look like a lot of dry exposition, or to divide up chunks of dialogue. It's a breathing space.

    I agree with those who say to use the technique sparingly, though. Like any trick, it's most effective when it's not overused.
  11. ThinkerX

    ThinkerX Myth Weaver

    One of Ankari's bigger gripes with my tales are the 'short paragraphs.' I go that route to keep things moving fast, so expanding them seems like...clutter.
  12. spectre

    spectre Sage

    I think that it's a good formatting style. It's somewhat of an etiquette or temper. When I've read lines written this way, it's usually a character's thoughts, or points more valid to the story line so they act sort of as segways for the imagination or as an iteration of plot/substance.

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