Flow: paragraphs

Complete, robust, persuasive arguments can be ridiculously complex.

As we've learned, the conclusion to an argument is a sentence, and the points to support that conclusion are sentences. Here, we've learned to elaborate on supporting points, turning these paraphrases into paragraphs; following Strunk and White's Elements of Style, we called paragraphs "the unit of composition".

Now we know that each of those paragraph-paraphrases (sentences) might be treated as a conclusion to a different argument. As such, we might develop further and further arguments until we reach sentences so basic that they don't seem to need further explanation. So, by this point in an essay, we likely have a lot of paragraphs, some of which might be related to one another in unexpected ways. How best to arrange those?

In this mess of paragraphs, you might find yourself being repetitive. Or you might find that you've jumped from one point to another a bit quicker than you should. (As always, your sense of this sharpens with experience.)

Here's a technique you can use to help determine whether your ideas are flowing well:

If you've used my so-called "Index Card Exercise" to develop your essay, then you might easily see -- quite literally -- where you've been repetitive, or where you've left things out. Whether you've used my technique or not, one thing you should do is to look for patterns or common factors in your essay.

Give it a read through and note some key words. Let's say your essay is about Danelectro guitars. You might notice that you talk about how collectable they are; note this. You might spend some time talking about how they're built; note this as well. And finally you might talk about famous guitarists who have used them; of course note this.

Now, you have identified three main themes in your essay. Re-read the essay and consider whether you should:

  • treat each theme one at a time, serially
  • treat each theme in parallel, perhaps to show similarities between them.

Of course, these aren't the only ways to proceed; I intend this to just get you started thinking about how you've structured your writing and how you might shift things around to differently-emphasise certain points.

You might discover that you've been repetitive. If so, then try to rearrange your paragraphs so that you don't need to repeat things. This might mean that instead of treating certain topics serially, you treat them in parallel. For example, if you find yourself saying: "As I said previously..." that might indicate a structural fault in your essay; the previous and the current point might be best combined. Similarly, if you find yourself saying: "As I will argue later..." your essay might similarly suffer fault. Ideally, you will say precisely what you need to say once, in the right spot. This is ideal flow.

It's not always possible to craft a structure this compact and concise. However you can often tighten things up by reconsidering how you've arranged your paragraphs, and noticing patterns in your own writing.

The next reading considers the structure of mystery fiction. Mysteries resemble arguments in that, throughout the story, the reader collects evidence (support) for a solution to the crime (conclusion). The mystery author makes calculated choices in revealing support, and, as a writer, you will profit from considering how similar calculations can enhance the effects of your writing.

Last modified: Friday, 1 March 2019, 9:48 AM