Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Does Your Fiction Happen in Order?

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

This is a topic that I talk about in the Go Teen Writers book, but it's come up in a few different stories I've looked at over the past couple weeks, so I thought I'd talk about it on the blog. When I was first learning to write fiction, I messed this up all the time. Until someone said to me: "Action first, then reaction." Sadly, I don't remember who told me this. Just that it was a big "Ah ha!" moment for me.

If you want the reader to connect with your characters and action, the reader needs to experience the events in your story in a logical way. Things should happen in order, then the characters should react to them. And when important actions are left out or seem to happen backwards, you risk confusing the reader. How can you fix this?

1. Get the order right

Look for sentences that have the actions happening out of order and rearrange them.

Poor example: The room was dark when I opened my eyes.
Better example: I opened my eyes to a dark room.

Poor example: The squire jumped aside to let the prince's sword go over his head.
Better example: The prince swung his sword, and the squire ducked. The sword slashed over his head.


2. Avoid Continuous Action Words

Watch out for times that you're written simultaneous actions or used words like: as, when, while, after, and continued to. Most of the time these words can and should be omitted. If you do use them, use them rarely and make sure to arrange the sentence so that events happen in a logical order: action first, then reaction.

Poor example: The car skidded to a stop as Luke rode his bike into the street.
Better example: Luke rode his bike into the street, and the car skidded to a stop.

Poor example: Beth cried when she dropped her ice cream cone.
Better example: Beth dropped her ice cream cone and cried.


3. Avoid Infinite Verb Phrases (Starting sentences with —ing words)

Starting a sentence with a word that ends in “ing” implies that everything in the sentence happens simultaneously, and this can often create physical impossibilities.

Poor example: Grabbing a soda, she put on her shoes, and drove to school.
Better example: She put on her shoes, grabbed a soda, and drove to school.


4. Avoid Teleporting

Make sure that you include all necessary actions in a scene that involves movement. If you skip over something important, the reader might lose track of where your character is.

Poor example: Mike was sitting on the front porch eating jelly beans when his favorite TV show came on. He sat on the couch to watch it.

Better example: Mike was sitting on the front porch eating jelly beans when it came time for his favorite TV. He went inside and sat on the couch to watch it.


When you're editing, close your eyes and let the action play out in your mind. Ask yourself: Are things happening in order in this sentence or paragraph? Am I missing any vital steps? Have sought out all the places I have simultaneous action?

How about you? Do you ever struggle with this?

34 comments:

  1. I use too many -ing words. And I tell the reader what's going to happen before it happens. But I'm working on these! Good tips! I especially need to get my action/reactions in the right order.

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    1. You can do it, Cait! Once you train yourself, it will come easier. :-)

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  2. -_- I just typed out a nice comment with some random examples I found from my current works-in-progress...and then the page refreshed. Grrrrrrrrr. Oh well. Basically, I found #2 the most often and #3 second-most. Good to watch out for, especially in editing! Thanks!

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    1. Aww, I hate that! Happens to me all the time.

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  3. I think I've got this. I'll have to save this for when I'm actually editing, because I'm sure these will come up. Thanks!

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  4. Oh wow. I just noticed how many ing-words I use to start sentences.........

    This post really opened my eyes to them all! :D

    Eeek! Great post!! Thank-you! :-)

    -Koren
    A writer for Him. :-)

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    1. Yay! Now that you see them, you can nab them! :-)

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    2. Haha, yes! :-)

      ~Koren

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  5. I didn't know that you're not supposed to use -ing words at the beginning of sentances. I do this a lot, but never realized that it made the actions seem like they were all happening at once! Thanks for the great tips!):)

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    1. You are most welcome. You can use them, just avoid the ones that create simultaneous action. And don't over do the ones that don't.

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  6. I will definitely have to bookmark this page for when I start editing (and even for as I'm writing). I've already though of a ton of times when I've used #1,#2, and #3. Great Post!

    -Abby

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    1. Thanks, Abby! Good job not teleporting! :-)

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  7. I use way too many -ing words, but I think (and hope) I'm okay with the others. I think writing in present tense helps me avoid too many order mistakes. This is a godsend now that I'm editing though. Thanks Jill!

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    1. You're welcome! Are you enjoying editing? It's my favorite part.

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    2. I'm not sure whether prefer the writing part or the editing part right now, but I definitely do like editing. Seriously considering becoming an acquisitions editor :)

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  8. I use 2 and 3 more than anything, but I'm sure 1 pops up from time to time. Oh well... Time to go back and do some revising. Such is life.

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    1. Yes, the editing does go on and on, huh?

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  9. Thanks! this is really helpful! I do a lot of the wrong things! :(

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    1. We all do, Taylor! But then we train ourselves to watch out for when we do, and we do less wrong things. LOL

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  10. These are my favorite kinds of posts, that deal with technique and wording. Maybe it's because that's the stage I'm at now. Thanks a bunch for this post! I catch myself doing things out of order all the time. Like, from Milo's POV, I'll say, "Christina grabbed his wrist." But maybe he was looking away or had his eyes closed. I'd change it to, "A hand, Christina's, grabbed his wrist." Just to sort of show it in the order of what he knows or notices. It's a little detail, but I find it really effective for solidifying POV!

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    1. That's good, Jessica. But if there are only two people in the room, you're fine with Christina grabbed his wrist or A hand grabbed his wrist. And if he closes his eyes, make sure that he opens them. I'm always forgetting to reopen my characters eyes... lol

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  11. Oh, Jill, you have no idea how much I needed this! Thank you!

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  12. Thank you for this! I often catch myself doing things like this, and it's a habit I'm trying to break :)

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    1. You can break it! Just takes practice. :-)

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  13. I really love the community you've developed here. Quick question: I've been reading through all of your old posts (I'm not a stalker!) and I found mention of a 2012 NextGen online conference. But when I followed the link, it said that the domain was for sale. Do you know if they will be hosting a 2013 conference, and if so, when?

    If not, you and Stephanie should totally create your own online conference one weekend. I'm sure we'd all love you for it!

    Sorry if I sound desperate. I'm just looking for a teen group who loves writing as much as I do. My local library doesn't have anything and I don't like some other forums I've tried. Problem is, I don't have Facebook to join yours and my mom doesn't approve of Facebook so I'm stuck all by my lonesome. My mother is amazing, but she isn't a writer.

    Would you ever consider another forum that isn't on Facebook? Or do you have any ideas GTWs? Any ideas would be welcome!

    God bless,

    Titannia

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    1. I've been looking for something like this too. Are there no teen/YA critique groups out there??

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    2. Yes I've also been looking for something like this. Would you consider hosting a conference similar to Next Gen? Or develop a safe group for teens (forum, email loops, yahoo groups?) similar to the Facebook group but for those who don't have Facebook?

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    3. Yes, NextGen is all done, but Steph and I are planning to do an online conference at some point. But Steph and I are going to a big homeschool conference in a few weeks, so it won't happen here until at least July or August, perhaps. She and I need to talk about it. I'll write myself a note. :-)

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    4. Oh my gosh! Yes, Titannia! I've been looking for something like this too! Jill, it would be so awesome if you and Stephanie could do something like this!

      -Abby

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    5. Aww, NextGen is done. It looked so neat! Well, tell us about any future Go Teen Writers online conferences.

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  14. Wow. Why have I never read this anywhere before? :) I'm pretty sure this turns up in my writing way too much. Thanks for the post :) will be looking out for it from now on!

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  15. I always have issues with the simultaneous actions. When I write, my characters sometimes do impossible combinations of things. I have to search for those when I edit.

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