This might be a stupid question but I am trying to write a small novel, and my structure just doesn't seem right. The text just flows continuously until the end of the chapter (with dialog being typed on their own lines).

Do I need to make use of paragraphs, and if so:

  • Do I just write start a new paragraph after a certain number of lines (if so how many lines would constitute a paragraph)?


  • Do I just use indentation at the start of a particular line to mark a new paragraph? I have seen in some novels, the text is structured like I described mine except after a certain number of lines there's an indentation at the start of a line.

4 Answers 4


Like all rules, only break it if you understand why it works, and you're breaking it deliberately to create an effect.

Paragraphs break up the copy into more digestible chunks and make it easier to read. A paragraph can have one to a few thoughts in it, or one thought can be spread over multiple paragraphs.

If you don't use paragraphs, what you're writing is just stream-of-consciousness. This can make it hard to read, because your copy becomes a wall of gray text. Some readers like stream-of-consciousness; some characters need it. It doesn't work for me as a reader, but it may work for you as a writer. You have to write your book and share it with others and get feedback.

If you use paragraphs, the length is dependent mostly on content, with some influence of "rhythm" — your inner ear telling you that this is a natural pause point for a thought.

For formatting, you indent the first line of a paragraph rather than using an extra return.

  • 3
    I'd give an extra +1 for the first sentence if I could. I think this is one of the most important rules of writing. It's okay to break the normal rules when those rules interfere with expressing what you are trying to say, or when you are breaking them to make a specific point. But don't break the rules just to prove that you are not bound by the rules. And if you don't understand a rule, learn why it's there before you decide that it's pointless. As G.K. Chesterton once wrote, Never tear down a fence until you know why it was put up in the first place.
    – Jay
    May 17, 2016 at 19:29
  • 1
    @Jay - That's also very true when maintaining software someone else wrote. Figuring out why something that appears out of place is there often reveals a lot. And you sleep better at night by not worrying that some edge case you were not aware of is waiting to get you. In writing, you usually want to do grammatical things the "standard" way so readers will focus on what you are saying, not on how you said it.
    – Joe
    May 18, 2016 at 6:45
  • 2
    @joe Exactly. Lots of writers think it's way cool to use some gimmick. "I'm going to write an entire novel as one long sentence with no periods" or whatever. 99% of the time this sort of thing is just annoying and distracting to the reader. Of course there are times when breaking normal rules is effective. Like, "In this scene where the hero is confused because everything is happening very fast, I will write it as one long sentence with no periods to create the feel of breathlessness" might work. Etc.
    – Jay
    May 18, 2016 at 14:03

In a novel it is conventional to start a new paragraph when you change:

-- speaker (yes, every time)

-- place

-- time

-- character

-- topic

You can change the 'meaning' of your text just by where you choose to place a new paragraph.


You have already selected an answer; however, as you mentioned your book has a lot of flow to it. I'm sure you know, conventionally novels have some form of paragraph structure. You may want to think about forgoing them altogether or deliberately formulating a structure that fits your piece of writing. Consider, On The Road - by Jack Kerouac, it was first typed out on a long continuous scroll. This book is revolutionary both in its style and content for its time. If you were to maintain a consistent approach it may provide a more immersive experience and set your book apart from others.

The first page of, On the Road

  • This is a good example. The stream-of-consciousness style is appropriate for the character's voice and the story. It's also so hard to read that I couldn't even finish the excerpt in just this image. May 16, 2016 at 20:10
  • I will not argue on that point, it can be difficult to follow. Then again, depending on the tale and the audience it has the potential to add more character to the story. If it seems as though the reader would get too lost in the madness or confused it wouldn't be worth the risk. May 16, 2016 at 21:05

Well, this is an issue perhaps related to whatever software you're using, though for the life of me, I can't imagine what that may be (everything should be standardized). Of course your question "Do I need to make use of paragraphs" confuses me - it's a question I would not expect from someone writing anything, let alone a novel.

FWIW: enter image description here Text on the left shows paragraphs with simple line breaks (without indentation). Text on the right shows first-line indentation. The example on the right is preferred for fiction.

As for how many lines would constitute a paragraph... There's not a single right answer to that, and probably it's not a valid question either. A paragraph is a text region that - more or less - encloses a group of sentences that are related to each other. For instance, it might be a description of a certain item, or someone's feelings in relation to a certain situation. Which means, a paragraph can be 2 or 122 lines long. There are no rules (or, to put it this way, there are but you are free to break them - provided you know when or how; like Todorov said, you need to know what it is you're sacrificing before you offer the sacrifice ;)

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