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I think there's a problem in my writings, that I can describe as not being fluid, and lacking in smooth transitions.

Based upon this, I'm interested in tips at shifting focus smoothly between paragraphs.

Note: I'm not sure about whether the tag fits this Q, feel free to remove it if not.

  • This is too broad a question to give a reasonable answer to, but first and foremost you have to start with writing idiomatic sentences. I will correct your title to make it idiomatic. – user16226 Aug 20 '17 at 21:13
  • @MarkBaker Can you elaborate the "too broad" part? – Mephistopheles Aug 20 '17 at 21:20
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    Making wiring flow smoothly involves writing skills and techniques at every level, from sentence formation to scene design to overall story shape as well as vocabulary and style choices. Almost any writing or storytelling flaw will result in choppy disconnected writing (among other defects). Advice on fluid writing has to encompass all these areas, and that is far to broad a subject for an SE question. – user16226 Aug 20 '17 at 21:29
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    Sorry, but that does not narrow it down sufficiently. One of the keys to good writing is recognizing that a statement that perfectly captures your own thought or problem to you may not be nearly specific, clear, or detailed for someone else to follow. You are going to need to add detail and/or examples so we can see what you are really struggling with. – user16226 Aug 20 '17 at 21:33
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    Yes, the focus on paragraph to paragraph transitions help to narrow it down. Retracting my close vote. – user16226 Aug 20 '17 at 22:59
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The paragraph is the most indistinctly defined unit in all of writing theory. In the 19th century it was common for paragraph to run on of a page or two. Today, they often run only a few lines.

For instance, the paragraph break I just made does not really indicate a shift of thought or action or theme. There is no hard and fast reason that I can think of that would justify breaking it or not breaking it as I did. The main reason for the break it that it seems to give the reader a bit a of rest and make the text a little less daunting to read.

Why less daunting? It is unclear, at least to me. The thread of argument is the same as it would be if this were still part of the first paragraph (as it certainly would be in 19th and most of 20th century prose). The breaks don't make the argument any easier to understand. And yet somehow this answer will be perceived as easier to read for being in three paragraph rather than one.

All of which it so say that in many cases the focus does not shift between paragraphs. A whole sequence of paragraphs will generally have the same focus, and probably should.

In fiction, it takes time for a reader to settle into a scene. You have to build up a mental picture of the setting and the characters and the action and follow it through to a logical conclusion. A shift of focus is mentally taxing for the reader. Any text that shifts focus rapidly is going to be hard to follow for no other reason than that rapid shifts of focus are exhausting for the reader under the best of conditions.

Remember that prose is an asynchronous medium. Things do not happen in real time. Often an event takes far longer to describe than the event would have taken to occur, or, vice versa, far longer to happen than to describe. For this same reason, handling events that happen simultaneously by rapidly switching back and forth is usually a bad idea in prose. (It can work very well in movies, where the camera does most of the imaginative work for the viewer.)

So, first and foremost, the way to make writing flow fluidly is to maintain focus on a single scene or sequence for as long as you reasonably can. Shifts of focus are inherently taxing on the reader, so keep them to a minimum. There is nothing wrong in a book in sending Jack off on 80 pages of adventure, and then saying "As soon as Jack left, Jill went to fetch a pail of water". That is hard to do in the movies because they are a synchronous media and people expect the time sequence to be inviolate. It is hard to insert this simple bit of narrative in a movie. But in prose it is easy to do, and generally preferable, since it helps keep each narrative thread flowing smoothly.

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    Why less daunting? Although not a bright line rule, I feel like your paragraph breaks above, and most paragraph breaks, occur like a conversationalist pause for breath, and to let words sink in. If All three of your paragraphs were together, it feels like a long lecture without a single pause, perhaps with the speaker barely taking a breath. That feels unnatural; as written, if paragraph breaks are for timing, pauses for breath or thought, they mentally sound more like a friend recounting an adventure, or in this case, a teacher explaining rules to a student. – Amadeus-Reinstate-Monica Aug 21 '17 at 10:53
  • Usually when I favorite a question it's because I feel the question is particularly important for me. This time, I felt the question was one I had a rough handle on but I could still use some improvement... and then I came to your answer and by paragraph 3, I realized exactly what I struggle with - trying to combine 19th century concept paragraphs with modern paragraph lengths. Thank you very much for that. I've not applied this lesson yet, but I feel confident that it will help me feel much more comfortable with my writing. – Ed Grimm Feb 11 '19 at 23:48

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