I’m afraid the paragraph is going the way of the dinosaur.
When I learned to write, words were the building blocks of sentences. Sentences were the building blocks of paragraphs. And paragraphs were the building blocks of a coherent article or essay or short story or even Gone With the Wind.
Today it’s the list that seems to be in vogue. I cite one website, www.myfitnesspal.com, as an example. The email that arrived today boasts of six foods to eat, ten snacks under 200 calories, and five filling breakfasts. Last week’s version included 29 fast and easy recipes, 20 low carb recipes, and 60 new chicken recipes. (Really? There are that many NEW recipes for chicken on the planet?)
The list is everywhere: writers’ websites, magazines at the check-out counter, television ads. A friend just sent me ten things writers should know, and Earl forwarded “14 Brilliant Pieces of Literature You Can Read in the Time It Takes to Eat Lunch.”
The problem with the list is that it doesn’t make for wonderfully flowing prose where one paragraph segues into another. Instead, each item on the list is its own mini-thought, not necessarily connected to the thought in front or in back of it, except for the headline.
Taking this tack, here are five things about Gone With the Wind that summarize the plot
- Scarlett O’Hare, the heroine, lives during the Civil War and the period of Reconstruction.
- Although she is not particularly beautiful, she has several beaus and three husbands inside one thousand pages.
- Scarlett is one of the first women’s libbers, surviving horrendous conditions by her wits, running her own company when ladies were expected to be demure, and kowtowing to no one.
- In the end, her third husband, Rhett Butler leaves her; but her spirit is unbowed.
- The final line in the book is, “Tomorrow is another day.”
Now be honest. If you’ve already read GWTW, do you honestly think this list is as good as the real thing?
And if you said “No,” please do your part to save the paragraph.