If I’d been clever enough to think of the title ‘Paragraphs Lost’ for the previous posting, putting the two titles together would have shown how brilliant and cultured I am. As it is, I didn’t, so you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Anyway, whatever its title, the said posting obviously turned out to be considerably less than gripping. That shouldn’t have surprised me. I drone on so often about absurdity being the norm that I should acknowledge that all attempts to impose structure imply meaning and so, by definition, are futile. Before we leave it, however, here’s the ‘correct’ version and some quick thoughts on why I still think it’s a valid exercise.
By ‘correct’, I mean the paragraph in its original form, which means that it’s ‘correct’ for what we wanted it to say rather than being the only possible version. Anyway, the number sequence is 7, 10, 8, 6, 1, 3, 2, 9, 4, 5, which gives you the following paragraph:
Propaganda is seen by some as a necessary evil but by others as just lies. Writers use language to expose the hypocrisy of politicians. The fact that they see themselves as having a higher goal still does not separate them from those they seek to criticize. Politicians use language to manipulate people. But the writer is just as guilty of manipulation. He has an agenda, he shapes his words to create a specific effect and, as a result, he is responsible for distorting the vision of his reader. He claims that his aims are those of society. The politicians say exactly the same thing. It would seem, therefore, that words are dangerous, whoever is using them. Language is a very powerful tool.
The specific ‘clues’ to the ‘correct’ sequencing are:
- If there’s a plural noun or pronoun – ‘writers’, ‘they’ – it can’t be followed by a sentence referring to the same set of people in the singular. (Politicians use language to manipulate people. He has an agenda.) And vice versa (The writer is just as guilty. The fact that they see themselves as having a higher goal…)
- Stylistically, repeating a word in successive sentences is awkward. (Language is a very powerful tool. Politicians use language to manipulate people.) This would obviously be better if the second occurrence was replaced by ‘it’ and the two sentences were made into one and separated by a semi-colon.
But the real object of the exercise was to suggest that, just as a novel or chapter is structured for maximum impact (you hope), so paragraphs and sentences need just as much in the way of shaping. The essence of the ‘test’ is to focus on how each sentence links with the one before it and prepares for the one after it.
Technically, a paragraph should deal with one major point. If the emphasis changes, you need to start a new one. The opening sentence establishes the theme, those which follow develop it in more detail and, you hope, lead to a powerful concluding sentence. It should do two things:
- Present thoughts in a logical sequence
- Link them smoothly to make your argument/narrative coherent.
If anything in a paragraph makes you lose your way or wonder what’s being referred to, it’s failed. Surprises are fine when they’re effects designed deliberately to disorientate the reader, but not when they’re the result of lack of clarity or stylistic ugliness.
So there, and after all that, just think yourselves lucky you don’t live in Aberdeen because I’m giving two workshops there next month on creative writing and I may well do more of this sort of thing with them. But, for now, I’m going to slip out of this teacher mode and into something more comfortable. Maybe a chiffon negligee, or perhaps the story of how my weekend visit to grandsons in
added to the population of
a six feet two inch 6-year-old called Dib Grinch who plays basketball and sleeps
upright in a cupboard. Italy