I have noticed as a writer that one of my greatest weaknesses is writing paragraphs. I never really learned exactly how a paragraph is supposed to support one single theme. For instance, this is a paragraph I wrote a little while ago:

Another artillery shell exploded: this time within arms reach. Burning steam and snow mist splashed against his face. Eith scrambled to his feet. Not daring to look at the near-miss shell, he limped his way forward. If he could just reach the top of this hill, enter a building, wait out the battle, and claw his way to the countryside, he might have a ghost of a chance of making it out intact.

This paragraph doesn't have a consistent theme. It starts off explaining the sensory information regarding a missed artillery explosion, but mid-way through the paragraph it switches to the POV character wanting to scramble away. Finally, the paragraph ends with the character making a plan to escape the aforementioned battlefield.

I am aware of the problem, one paragraph is trying to have three different themes at one time, but alone, none of these ideas are strong enough to support their own paragraph. It would be padding to think otherwise.

How do I write long, detailed paragraphs that have enough substance to stand on their own as an individual theme without resorting to padding?

2 Answers 2


Of course that paragraph has one single consistent theme:

How the character, Eith, realizes that he is in danger of being hit by an artillery shell and how this realization induces him to plan how to remove himself from that danger.

The paragraph even has a small arc: an (implied) initial situation (we assume that character felt safe where he is), a beginning in medias res with an inciting incident (the impact of the artillery shell close to the character), a rising action (the character scrambling away), the preview of a climactic resolution (reaching safety at the top of the hill), and the anticipation of a denouement (making it out to the countryside and safety).

It seems like an almost perfect paragraph to me. The fact that the resolution and denouement of that paragraph haven't yet happened and are merely a plan that the character has of how he wants to shape his future makes the reader have the premonition that some dangerous turns of event will probably lie between the character and that goal and raises the suspense.

The answer to your question, therefore, is: As you did.


From my perspective as a reader, you are trying to make one paragraph do too many things.

Ben mentions your example containing a complete arc. That's too much for one little paragraph.

You need to break it apart and provide some details. Not padding - details. You've pared every sentence to a minimum of details in order to squash them all into one paragraph. Give the concepts some room.

Burning steam and snow mist splashed against Eith's face as another artillery shell exploded, this one within arm's reach.

Eith edged up the hill, past the smoking crater of the near miss.

If he could reach cover in one of the buildings at the peak, he could escape to the countryside later.

Enough cover and a little time, and he might get out alive.

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