A nice little piece by Elisa Gabbert for The Smart Set about paragraphs; I like it because it pushes back against the terminally boring essay style they teach you in school (“first I’ll tell you what I’m going to say, then I’ll say it, then I’ll tell you what I said”) and it has some tasty examples:
What most people follow is a variation of the rule established for “five-paragraph essays” in grade school, where each paragraph is built around a “topic sentence.” As such, if the essay is an argument, each paragraph represents a subargument, with the first and last paragraphs reserved for introductory and closing remarks. (This seems like a big waste of two-fifths of the allotted paragraphs; in school I learned to save one of my best points for the end, to avoid having to rephrase my intro all over again.) […]
In nonfiction, I’m obsessed with what I’ve come to think of as the invisible transition, where there is no clear, necessary connection between two paragraphs, and yet – something happens. The juxtaposition isn’t as jarring as a non sequitur, but it could have been otherwise. In fact I’d argue that what’s mostly “lyric” about a so-called lyric essay are these transitions, these leaps, more so than some inherently “poetic” quality of the language. Invisible transitions make a text feel more open, and inside these openings, essays gesture toward poetry. […]
I love the way inter-paragraph gaps fight against the idea of essay as argument, and make it an act of discovery. Or rather a document of discovery, like an explorer’s journal, written in pencil and gone back through – to add color more than accuracy; even at the expense of accuracy. The essay needn’t be faithful to the path of the thinking, but the form can reveal how thinking happens, like when a song gets stuck in your head and only later do you realize why you thought of it, that you had read or heard a word from the third verse. There’s magic there – the mind doesn’t always show its work. Why should prose?