The Art of the Paragraph – great article by Elisa Gabbert


picrowFantastic article at The Smart Set about paragraphs and their use in non-fiction to aid transitions and connections, both.

An intriguing exploration of paragraph length, structure and style.

Why should sentences have all the fun?

Sentences are taken to be the basic unit of prose, and we use them metonymically – we say “She writes wonderful sentences” when we mean to praise the author’s prose. James Salter is so well-known for his sentences that it rises to the level (or sinks, I suppose) of critical cliché. In a 2013 profile in the New Yorker, Salter is quoted, in a letter to a friend: “I wanted to get past the great-writer-of-sentences thing. I don’t care about that, at this stage.” But why is it, I wonder, we rarely talk about a writer’s way with paragraphs?…

….In nonfiction, I’m obsessed with what I’ve come to think of as the invisible transition, where there is no clear, necessary connection between two paragraphs, and yet – something happens. The juxtaposition isn’t as jarring as a non sequitur, but it could have been otherwise. In fact I’d argue that what’s mostly “lyric” about a so-called lyric essay are these transitions, these leaps, more so than some inherently “poetic” quality of the language. Invisible transitions make a text feel more open, and inside these openings, essays gesture toward poetry. (Gertrude Stein said “Sentences are not emotional but paragraphs are,” though who knows if she meant it.)

Read the whole piece – it’s not too long. Plenty of writerly food for thought.


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