How to Chop Up a Manuscript

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

Adding – or deleting – a paragraph to a manuscript is an important question to ask.

Some passages are deemed more important than others and some argue that removing a paragraph could change the entire tone of a novel, while a short story can be a single paragraph.

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One of the most significant mistakes writers make, yet one of the most common, is adding paragraphs to a manuscript that are unneeded.

Writers often add sections to their manuscripts without knowing why or what purpose they are serving.

Usually, the person who does this is not even aware that they are doing it, and they will add a paragraph here and there without knowing what the section will do to their manuscript.

Chopping implies deleting, but it means embracing the white space and the silence between words for this article.

A simple carriage return can do a lot of work, physically, emotionally, and visually for you and the reader.

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

That way, even if you choose to 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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