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stimulus/response

September 15, 2010

I thought I’d blog about a writing topic today.

When I beta read, I often find myself commenting on things such as “This sentence/paragraph isn’t written in chronological order. You might want to rewrite.” And often, the writer asks for clarification. What does “chronological order” mean?

So here’s an explanation.

Events should be told in chronological order – describe the cause first, then the effect. Something happens, then the character reacts to it, not the other way around.

Examples:

  • The cat licked her bushy tail when she noticed Jorie looking at her. Since Jorie’s stare is what causes the cat to lick her tail (because we know cats don’t like to be stared at), that part of the sentence needs to come before the cat’s reaction. => When the cat noticed Jorie looking at her, she licked her bushy tail.
  • She opened the book after getting comfortable on the couch. Same here: First she sits down, then she opens the book, so it should be written in that order. => After getting comfortable on the couch, she opened the book.

Sometimes, it’s okay to break chronological order if the sentence sounds awkward otherwise, but for sentences with a strong cause-effect relationship, it would be better to put things in chronological order.

Within the reaction/effect, descriptions should follow a certain order too. I’ll explain in another blog post.

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2 comments

  1. Very good point. After you reversed the order, it became obvious that it was necessary for clarity. Now I am wondering if I have committed this error in my writing. Thank you for bringing this to my attention.


    • Thanks for commenting.

      It’s always easier to find mistakes like this one in someone else’s writing. That’s why beta readers are so invaluable.



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