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Entries in Writing (6)

Saturday
Jul112015

The death of the paragraph

The best class I ever took in university was English 109, with Dr. North. My daughter, who is a PhD student at my alma mater, told me that it has changed a lot since I took it. That's a shame, because it was a great course.

Each week, we met for a forty minute lecture to discuss the material upon which we'd be writing. A couple of days later, we had a three hour writing lab, where we would have to submit our essays at the end of the class, complete with an outline. If we didn't hand the essay in at the end of the class, it was an automatic failure of the course; there was no taking the essay home and handing it in later. It was a good discipline. This process forced us to think of essays in proper terms: an argument that is supported by evidence, which is expanded up on paragraphs which contain the supporting statements. It was a course good not only for writing essays, but for understanding that all writing generally puts forth an assertion of some kind. 

There are many ways in which the internet has changed the way we communicate. As we become a more image saturated society, and our attention spans become shorter, writers are encouraged to write short paragraphs. I think that's a good idea, but more and more what I see is writing where every sentence is its own paragraph.

After a longer pargarph, it can give dramatic effect.

Especially if someone is being transparent.

I think it's supposed to make us stop and think, "wow."

Now, not every article or post has to be written in a formal academic style, but there is something to be said for constructing an argument, however brief it may be. In some of the articles where I have seen this device (over) used, it's almost as if the writer has been unable to decide if he/she wants to write poety or prose. Is this the new stream-of-consciousness?

When I sit down to read something, I want to see something unfolded, whether it's fiction or non-fiction. Just imagine A Tale of Two Cities being written in the short paragraph format:

It was the best of times.

It was the worst of times.

It was the age of foolishness.

It was the epoch of belief.

It was the epoc of incredulity.

It was the season of Light.

It was the the season of Darkness...

It kind of reminds me of this:

See Jane run.

See Dick run.

See Spot run.

Recently, I was reading John Stott's book The Cross of Christ. There was a paragraph that was quite a bit longer than others, and I did find myself wondering when he would wrap things up. But there are many other times when I'm simply caught up in the point Stott is making. When I read writers trying to make a point with sixteen one-liners instead of an entire paragraph, my visual mind can't follow along. I end up not reading. And that's too bad, because there may be something worthwhile in the article. Writing is a presentation of an idea, and sometimes, if the presentation isn't great, the idea gets lost. I am showing my age, and there are many who would disagree with me.

That's fine with me.

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