Writing Tip – Sequence of Events

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Checking the order of events in a story is a tip that falls in both the editing and writing categories. It’s something to look for during the editing process, and hopefully, over time it will be caught during the writing process.

Sequence of events on the sentence, paragraph, and even scene level is often overlooked. It can be as simple as this:

Sara put the milk in the fridge and closed the door. She made sure the lid to the container was tight.

The remark about the lid on the milk being tight comes after the door to the fridge is closed. So visually, the reader has the door closed, and then the writer moves back and comments on the lid.

This is a mistake that is quite common, and makes its way into published books. As a reader, it can be jarring.

Another example is when two characters are speaking on the phone, and the female protagonist doesn’t recognize the voice of the caller. Come to find out, the caller is the woman’s husband of the past 10 years. Unless there is an extenuating circumstance like the person’s voice is altered, the connection is bad, or the man’s been missing for the past 9 ½ years, the woman should recognize the voice immediately.

Related to this, is recognizing a familiar person upon meeting them, or not noticing them when entering a room. Or entering a room, and not noticing a dead body, pink elephant, or something else shocking. I have seen this error in books, TV shows, and movies.

Although describing a room can be instinctual to put at the beginning of a scene, if there’s something more interesting in the room than the type of flooring or the oil paintings on the wall, it should be noticed and described first. This is also applicable to the action of a scene. If action draws a character into a room, don’t stop the action by describing the furniture.

Often times these errors appear when the author tries to slow the pace of a scene, so information is not revealed too soon. As a reader, it’s awkward to read about a crystal chandelier only to find out half a page later that there’s a dead body in the room.

If slowing the pace is the goal, try having the characters stopped outside the house and delayed in a conversation, or have the room that the shocking item, person, or event took place in be farther inside the house.

Once you start looking for these errors, they will become easier to identify.

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