I once received an email from a new subscriber to my newsletter. The message was quite long and didn’t contain a single paragraph break—not one. I found myself confused as I read because all the various points he was making began to blur together into an enormous block of text.
(He also didn’t capitalize any words, even those at the beginning of a sentence, but that is a separate blog post.)
Somewhere in his message the man mentioned that he is an aspiring novelist, so when I replied to thank him for getting in touch, I also gently suggested that in future correspondence he employ paragraph breaks to keep the recipient’s interest from straying. I even included a smiley face so he would know I was trying to be helpful, not mean.
He didn’t listen.
Over the next couple days he sent me three or four more emails, each one a massive paragraph that had me squinting at my computer screen. (Massive as in longer than this entire blog post.) I don’t think I even finished reading the last message because I just couldn’t take it anymore. He is a very pleasant man, and clearly very bright, but his writing is weighed down by this one tic that unfortunately overshadows the intended meaning of his words. If this is the impact the tic has on a few emails to me, I can only imagine what it’s doing to the novel he’s working on.
The lesson here is this: Whether it’s an email to a friend or a scene in your novel, keep the reader in mind as you write. Breaking up text not only allows the most salient points to have their chance in the spotlight, it also keeps your readers from losing focus—and interest.