What you need to know about chopping up manuscripts

Photo of a sharpened pencil, next to pencil shavings and small, gray pencil sharpener

The decision to add a paragraph to a manuscript — or delete it — is essential during the editing process. There might be a need to adjust the tone or structure of the text. Rewriting or editing existing content can maintain consistency and coherence.

One of the most significant mistakes writers make, yet one of the most common, is adding unneeded paragraphs to a manuscript. Writers often add sections to their manuscripts without knowing why or what purpose they serve. Extra paragraphs can distract readers and reduce the clarity of the piece. Writing requires writers to focus on only providing the essential information.

A simple carriage return can do a lot of work, physically, emotionally, and visually for you and the reader. It can help draw attention to specific parts of your text and make it easier to read. It can also create a sense of anticipation or pause, setting the tone for the next section. Carriage returns can also add a feeling of organization to a text, making it easier to understand and navigate.

When we chop, we delete, but we also embrace the white space and the silence between words.

When to add a paragraph

So when should a writer add one?

  • Whenever a new character appears
  • When a new event occurs
  • When a new idea is introduced
  • When the setting changes
  • When a new person is speaking
  • When time moves forward or backward
  • When the “camera” moves

When to remove a paragraph

If you’re not sure whether you should remove a new paragraph, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Does the information flow like a sequence of sentences or an open network?
  2. Does the information support the thesis, or does it take the reader off-topic?
  3. Is there another place where this information can be added?

No matter what you decide, make sure your paragraph breaks are relevant.

That way, even if you delete a paragraph during the editing phase, you’ll have plenty of room to move and play around if it serves the story.

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