A while back I received one of the strangest criticisms of my work. My paragraphs were too long. This was a criticism I heard all the way back to high school when I started to bloom writing wise. But this criticism, when pressed, wasn’t that I was expressing something outside of the theme of a paragraph, like some sort of run on sentence, it was that it’s big.
I’m usually up for criticism of any sort, but is this really a critique? Is this something I shouldn’t do?
It wasn’t a critique, and it’s something I’m going to do.
I don’t think there is anything inherently right or wrong about any size of paragraphs, but I’ve noticed the lack of length in reading other books that I consider sub-par. I long for the long winding passages found in my favorite books. Infinite Jest, Invitation To A Beheading, Americana, and it goes on. Each sentence builds just a little on the one before, not going too far ahead, to form a picture as they layer on one another. And the sentences stretch on. I’ve always been fascinated by how great writers are able to construct sentences that seem like they have no end, but still remain understandable and manageable. Paragraphs grow in richness through description rather than use of adjectives. Sentences are meant to describe, not to tell – it’s obvious that you’re reading a cheap novel by their over use of compounded adjectives rather than description. I love it when it’s all done right. It’s why I read these authors. And I hope to have a grasp of how they do it some day.
Short paragraphs always leave me wanting.
But this is why I don’t like the criticism and I actually say it’s invalid.
It has a sense of what writing should be based on typology and not content. If you are like Hemingway and can nail a sentence in six words, I’d like to learn. If you can write a sentence spanning a page and still be understandable, then I’ll do whatever you ask of me. But I’ll go past high school and back to elementary school for what the elements of writing are:
– A sentence is a complete thought.
– A paragraph is a collection of similar thoughts.
The hell with what anyone else tries to tell me.