Thursday, August 21, 2008

What comes first?

I'll develop this in greater depth when I get that ms edited for that stern taskmaster Theresa....
But I want to explore and ask you how you determine what comes first in a sequence of experience for the character.

Like action before reaction, okay, usually. But what about perception and then realization (that is, 1) My face burned. 2) I realized I'd been insulted.

What about thought and speech?

More later-- just jotting this down so I'll remember. But if you happen to have a handy paragraph that has action, reaction, perception, thought, emotion, etc., maybe post in comments so we'll have a sample or two. That is, a paragraph that has several -things- in there, like speech and action and emotion and thought and all that good stuff.

Not that there's any rule (though I've heard rules), but rather let's look at a couple of sequences and see how the order might be affected by context.

(T, I vaguely remembering one of our infrequent disagreements -- pre semicolon-- was about whether dialogue paragraphs should end -- in the main-- on the speech or the action.)

7 comments:

Patricia W. said...

I don't know if there's an order to perception and realization.

I realize I'm insulted. My face burns. (reaction to realization)

My face burns. I realize I'm insulted. (reaction to perception of heat/pain)

Could go either way.

Edittorrent said...

Yeah-- when would you do one, and when the other?
Alicia

Ian said...

I think there is an appropriate sequence to experience for a character (I love that phrase - I may just steal it).

1. External action
2. Reflexive response
3. Comprehension
4. Emotional response
5. Considered response

Putting these into a writing scenario:

Daniel took a swing at me, so I popped him in the face with the clipboard I was holding. Then I realized he'd just been fooling around, and I blushed. "Dude, I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't think."

"Ow," he said, rubbing his nose.

This really happened to me at work one day.

Ian

Greg said...

The sequence is something to be played with, part of the character development. A character who consistently thinks then reacts will seem in control, perhaps even calculating. A character who reacts then understands why will seem impulsive. And the sequencing can be used as a subtle cue to those characteristics.

Edittorrent said...

As I recall, that disagreement wasn't about how to end dialogue paragraphs, but about how the frequent interspersal of beats and dialogue from a single speaker can disrupt action/reaction sequencing.

Theresa

Nancy D'Inzillo said...

I agree with Greg. I think it's quite relative to the character how he or she should react. That said, as most editors will point out, consistency is key. If a character reacts before thinking, he or she should do so throughout the text. That is, unless part of the character development is that they become conscious of the fact that they react before thinking and grow not to do so.

Whirlochre said...
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