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Most Paragraph Rules are Wrong for Stories

Many English teachers teach their students to write paragraphs the same way:  use 5-8 sentences, and always lead with a topic sentence.

The technique works, but it’s wrong.  At least, it’s not quite right.  It also leads to many boring essays and stories.

From time to time, I’m asked if you can have a one sentence paragraph.

Of course you can.

In fact, you can have one word paragraphs.  Who says so?


The real trick to writing a good paragraph isn’t whether you follow a template.  It’s whether you can write paragraphs that are cohesive, coherent, and clear.

Here are the rules you should follow:

1. Each paragraph should focus on one topic

Finding good places to separate your paragraphs can be difficult.  However, there are some things you can do.

One trick I use is to identify when I need a new paragraph is to determine when I’m talking about more than one topic.  If there’s more than one topic, I split a paragraph apart.  Generally, this means my paragraphs are 2-4 sentences long, not 6-8 sentences.

2.  Shorter is better

People don’t like to read long paragraphs.  It’s hard to read, and big blocks of text are intimidating to a reader.

Instead, keep your paragraphs short, especially for long stories or content written for the Internet.  Making your work easy to read is the first step to getting your message across quickly.

3. Vary paragraph length

Most people already know to vary their sentence length to make their paragraphs more interesting.  However, many also don’t think about varying their paragraph length.

A one-sentence paragraph between two longer ones makes a bigger impact.  Especially if you can summarize the impact in a few words.

Short paragraphs work.

See how simple the above paragraph is?  This technique can be effective in improving the impact of stories, persuasive essays, or even just a letter to a colleague.  Summarize your impact in as few words as possible, and surround it with text that explains it further.

Simple concept.  Big impact.

Using these tips will help you write more engaging material for your readers.  Experiment with these ideas, and see how they can help you write more effectively.


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