Nathaniel Knight

Reflections, diversions, and opinions from a progressive ex-physicist programmer dad with a sore back.

That time I didn't believe that paragraphs were a thing

When I was about eight years old I was quite literary. I read books that were said to be "advanced" for a kid my age and got good grades in language subjects. I came to value this aptitude, and considered it a point of pride. So when I was told that my sentences were strong but I needed to use more paragraph breaks, I was indignant.

Not, mind you, because I thought I had good paragraphs. As far as I was concerned, these so-called paragraphs were a fabrication with no purpose but to make me look bad.

"I read Animorphs books" I said hesitantly, "and I don't think they have paragraphs." Animorphs books were the height of sophistication for serious eight-year-olds back then, so this would surely put a stop to this misguided attack on my savviness.

Looking back, this reaction is a clear indictment of my education, my overconfidence, or both, but luckily for me (and for everyone I've subsequently written for), my mother overheard my assertion and, with just the right amount of gentle mocking, told me to open the beat up copy of whatever YA novel I was improving myself with that week and look again.

You won't be shocked to learn that the random page I flipped to was full of paragraphs, but I sure was. There they were, little indentations, running down the side of the page, mocking me. I turned the page in amazement, as if I might find vindication on the other side, but there they were again! This was something important to me, something that made me different and special, and yet I had overlooked this feature that was plain to see on every page.

In retrospect I appreciate this lesson in personal fallibility; I've been wrong lots of times, sometimes about things as clear as typography. It stings less when you know it's coming and when you can see yourself as someone who cares for you would: obviously wrong, a bit ridiculous, but just in need of a little straightening out.