Maybe it’s my short attention span or maybe it’s the high school AP English teacher trapped in my skull saying, “Guess what? You were lied to: all paragraphs do NOT have to be five sentences. In fact they better NOT all be the same length OR ELSE!” but I take issue with long paragraphs.
Now, you’re probably wondering what defines a long paragraph. Is it five sentences? Ten? Thirteen? TWENTY-FIVE?
With exception of that last one (because I pray you never write a paragraph with twenty-five sentences), I’d actually say that depends. Yes, yes I know, diplomatic answer, but hear me out.
If you write a paragraph with three ridiculously long sentences (as in thirty or—God help you—more words), then guess what? You have yourself a long paragraph.
If, on the other hand, you write a paragraph with five or six telegraphic sentences (one without any embellishments such as “The cat meowed.”), then my long paragraph alarm will probably remain silent.
The best and easiest way to tell if your paragraph is too long is simply by looking at it. Does it look like a brick sitting on the page? Yes? Then it’s probably just that—a brick on your page.
Now, that’s not to say that all long paragraphs are evil. I won’t completely discriminate here, I know the value of having a long paragraph or two, especially if the pace has slowed down and you’re giving the reader a bit of a breather. In that case yes, longer paragraphs are acceptable. Necessary, even.
But just as I would advise against having a page full of uniform short paragraphs, I strongly advise against the same with long ones.
Now again, I’m not claiming to be any expert because I’m not. But I’ve found that varying paragraph (and sentence) length not only helps set the pace and create a nice flow, but adds a little extra dynamic element to the writing.
It might be a subconscious thing, or it might just be the all-too common ADD nature of readers like me nowadays, but when I see paragraph after paragraph of the same length (albeit long or short), my eyes tend to glaze over. It becomes monotonous. The voice in my head goes dull and flat and—zzz….
Varying paragraph and sentence length helps fight against that. Rather than a steady, flat reading experience a long paragraph followed by a short paragraph breaks up the page and harmonizes with each other. It acts like a chord in a song rather than the same single note over and over again.
It works. And it keeps us interested.
So what do you think? Does paragraph length make that much of a difference, or am I just crazy? J