Today I’d like to share a technique that writers use to help keep things moving quickly during a tense or action-packed scene. It’s the idea of punchy or short paragraphs.
Firstly, there is no rule when it comes to the length of paragraphs. The role of a paragraph is simply to convey certain information – an idea. Whenever we change focus, we start a new paragraph. A paragraph might be short (just one word!) or it might be mammoth (over a hundred!).
I’ll share a couple of short sections from Toffle Towers: Order in the Court. The aim is to show you how these sections contain paragraphs of different lengths. This is because the two sections have different roles.
- Character description. (97 words – one paragraph)
The door flung open and a large figure stooped into the room, covering the oak desk with an imposing shadow. Chegwin immediately knew who it was – he recognized the fur coat that cast the shadow, as well as the smell of rotting fish the stung his nostrils. It was Brontessa Braxton, owner of the only other hotel in Alandale, and somebody who was proving very difficult to deal with. She frowned at the sight of the boy, her dark eyes glowering beneath her bushy eyebrows, which seemed to have increased in fluffiness since Chegwin last saw her.
- Thief scene (81 words – 9 paragraphs)
The young boy steadied himself. But before he jumped out, he wanted to steal a quick look at the burglar. He had to be sure it was safe to spring into action.
Chegwin poked his head around the corner of the doorway.
A shadow moved.
Had Chegwin blown his cover?
As he fumbled around for his torch, Chegwin saw the silhouette dart quickly towards the stairs.
Whoever it was had reached the staircase.
Chegwin’s fingers grasped his torch.
Notice how much shorter the paragraphs are in example 2. This is because I wanted to keep things moving at a frantic pace. This is a huge contrast to the example 1, which had the job of introducing a character into the book.
The next time you’re writing an exciting scene, experiment with some punchy paragraphs to increase the tension.