Writing Tip 5: The Problem of ‘Gapism.’ Avoid Block Paragraphing.


The message today is, don’t let your computer format your fiction for you. If you do so it will leave a space or gap each time you hit the enter key. This creates block paragraphing, which evolved out the formatting of business letters, reports etc, to which it is suited.

It is not suited to fiction writing. For fiction we use indent paragraphing, traditionally the only form of paragraphing for either fiction or non fiction. With the indent form, there are no gaps between paragraphs, the ruler at the top of the page is used to set a first line indent, which means that when ever the enter key is pushed, you move to the next line with the indent you have set.

Look at these two examples of the same passage from my latest book Hold My Teeth While I Teach You to Dance. I’ve used PDFs, as WordPress and Facebook do not permit indent form, at least not easily. I am using block paragraphing now as it has become the standard for blog and website software.

Example 1: Block Paragraphing.

Block Paragraph Example

Note how it fragments the text with gaps, particularly dialogue. Even over this short section, we have gained space and lost content, all gobbled up by needless gaps! Block paragraphing wreaks dialogue, the look of it and the continuity of it. Destroys the flow of readers attention, and possibly yours as you write. Remember, in much modern poetry gaps are there for a purpose – gaps can be phonetically charged, or indicate lacunae of some kind.

In fiction a gap can represent a mini-chapter or narrative break, a shift of time and place. To do that with block paragraphing you need a double gap, and the page looks even worse.

Example 2: Standard Indent Paragraphing.

Indent Example

My point is that this might affect the way you write. I notice that writers who use block form can’t happily vary paragraph length, or use in very short paragraphs.  The form itself tends to make for longer paragraphs and less flexibility.

Write fiction in indent form, it may change the way language flows for you.

I can’t instruct you on how to change your software settings, as different versions of Word do it in different ways. It can usually be found under formatting, paragraph. Seek help if you need it.