Lots of writing books, including Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, will tell you that you can use your paragraphing to emphasize key points. Want something to stand out? Put it in its own paragraph.
Picking which parts of your narrative you want to emphasize is trickier. As a rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to highlight the moments when your scene takes a sudden turn – when your viewpoint character suddenly realizes something, or another character does something surprising, or the mood of the scene simply changes. Just let less important moments develop within a single paragraph.
Today’s selection covers a variety of examples. Two of the mood changes – when Kellyn first feels threatened by the milk guy and when she begins to sympathize with him – are buried mid-paragraph. So is the moment of shock when she spots the sinister man staring at her. The moment when the milk guy first starts dumping milk does begin a new paragraph, but the writer could emphasize it even more by giving the sentence its own paragraph. Her decision to ignore the man in the suit is given its own, single-sentence paragraph, even though it’s a relatively minor development.
This confused emphasis makes it hard to track how Kellyn’s reactions build over the course of the scene. Take the metaphor of the eighteen-wheeler, for instance. It’s a good image, clear and powerful, but we don’t understand why she reacts to milk guy with such panic, then moments later is worrying about only finding change in her purse. If you would like to keep the metaphor, we need some interior monologue to explain her reaction.
Instead, I’ve simply cut it, and adjusted the paragraphing so that her feelings about the milk guy follow a clearer arc, and the panic she feels when she first spots the stranger continues to build.
Because it’s hard to judge the pace of a passage that’s been marked up as much as this one, I’ve decided to include a clean, as-edited copy as well, so you can get a feel for the finished product.
The man at the dairy case was clearly insane
, Kellyn decided.  Scruffy, unshaven, tattered coat :, he looked homeless. but He didn’t quite smell the part, though, reeking more of paint than filth. The guy picked up a gallon of milk , and muttered something to himself, and put the carton back, either commenting on it or talking about the carton or to it. Interesting. ,
[Paragraph added] 
bBut that didn’t matter. She Kellyn needed to get a jug of skim for the week. She sidled in and grabbed the nearest half gallon. The man snatched up another carton and . He peered at the label. “Ah,” he said, “ah.”
[Paragraph added] Then h
His fiery gaze fixed on her. “You.”  [Read more…]