the end of part two

More of the story Stevie One is posted. The new part starts here. This is the conclusion of Part Two of the story.

I was going to split this up, post some today and the rest later, but I decided this was better. On Stephen Watkins' blog we've been talking about exactly what a "scene" is, and when you post serially a "scene" is pretty much one post, one day's excerpt.

A couple of times I've been on blogs where people have talked about where to break chapters, should it be a cliffhanger, and I never really have much to contribute. I have no theories about this; it's pretty much always a gut decision. I sometimes write something and think, "This would be a good curtain line," but then it doesn't end up working that way.

In one of the Nero Wolfe mysteries (called Plot It Yourself), Wolfe is investigating a series of plagiarism cases. In each cases, it's different person bringing the charge (against a different writer), but Wolfe gets the idea that the cases may be related, and compares the manuscripts on which the claims are based. He discovers they were all written by the same person.

He identifies similarities of punctuation, sentence construction, and specific words. Then he says:

A clever man might successfully disguise every element of his style but one – the paragraphing. Diction and syntax may be determined and controlled by rational processes in full consciousness, but paragraphing – the decision whether to take short hops or long ones, whether to hop in the middle of a thought or action or finish it first – that comes from instinct, from the depths of personality. I will concede the possibility that the verbal similarities, and even the punctuation, could be coincidence, though it is highly improbable; but not the paragraphing. These three stories were paragraphed by the same person.

That's how I feel about deciding where to break excerpts in serial publication.

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6 Responses to the end of part two

  1. See, now I’m curious what my paragraphing says about me to a detective or forensic analyst.

    “This is clearly the paragraphing…
    … of a Murderer!”

    But seriously… my paragrahing is all over the place. Some paragraphs are very short. Some very long. I have paragraphs that are a single sentence long. I have no idea what the longest I’ve ever done is. But they’re all jumbled together.

    I wonder if there’s a definable pattern… like a paragraph-iamb or something (Short-Long, Short-Long).

  2. Ack. My “Queue Dramatic Music” tag got… disappeared!

  3. Also… “Queue Dramatic Music” is totally, homophonically wrong! Oops.

  4. 1) Even Wolfe couldn’t figure out who was a murderer by their paragraphing. In fact, in that mystery his discovery is actually a big setback — at least in the short term — in solving the case.

    My paragraphs tend to be short, I think. Well, short in fiction. My blog post paragraphs tend to be longer.

    Hemimgway often had a few long paragraphs followed by some short ones. That’s because he wrote dialogue (short paragraphs) on a typewriter and description (longer paragraphs) longhand.

    2) Just as well, I read this at work and the dramatic music would have alarmed the people in the adjoining cubicles. :-)

    3) You see, that’s why WordPress deleted it the first time.

  5. sonje says:

    How odd. I never thought that paragraphing could be so telling. It’s still hard for me to grasp the concept that it could be like a fingerprint. How many ways are there to create a paragraph? And how many writers are there? Seems like many more writers than paragraphs. I think that words, themes, and even punctuation are more telling than how long or short your paragraphs are or what you put in them.

  6. I don’t know, actually. It could easily have been Wolfe showing off for Archie (his assistant), and/or Stout showing off for the reader. The main point is that the deduction doesn’t depend on that (the paragraphing clue comes after several paragraphs of other clues — words, phrases, and punctuation).

    My guess would be that the point about paragraphing being (at least for many writers) a gut-level decision was Stout’s real opinion, and he stretched it to make it serve as a clue in a mystery, knowing that nothing vital was resting on it.

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