The Lyrics of a Storyteller: Sentence Association and Sequence PODCAST

On June 11, 2021 I joined authors Meredith Bond and Pru Warren to discuss the effective use of sentence sequence and association in setting story rhythm and adding impact to your fiction writing. Here’s the link to their podcast:

The Writers Block Party Talks To Author BC Deeks

Our Discussion was lots of fun as well as informative so here are my notes on what we covered.

SENTENCES convey information or thoughts. Writers need to clearly connect RELATED THOUGHTS and properly signal their ASSOCIATION and FLOW. Sparing you the grammatical label [Conjunctival Adverb! 😉 – it is the crack of dawn here in Alberta! – ] let’s just say that a good writer has to–

FIRST: show the TYPE of RELATIONSHIP one thought has to the other thought,

SECOND: show the logical order or SEQUENCE of the information

You don’t want to force the reader to stop and have to think through the association and flow themselves. That just throws them out of the story.

RELATIONSHIP: is based on 8 FACTORS:
• ADDITION… furthermore, besides, and, likewise, also, as well, plus, too
• COMPARISON… similarly, as oppose to, likewise, in a like manner, but, in contrast
• CONTRAST… but , yet, still, nevertheless, on the other hand, after all, on the other hand, otherwise
• PLACE… here, there. near, beyond, beside, opposite to, adjacent from
• TIME… And then, at the same time, meanwhile, immediately, soon, afterward, later, as soon as
• PURPOSE…because, therefore, to this end, for this prupose
• RESULT (cause and effect)… therefore, accordingly, as a result, consequently, to be sure, hence, thus
• SUMMARY… for example, in any eventr, indeed, in fact, for instance, in other words, in short, in sum, in brief

EXAMPLE:

Brenda is going to Newfoundland. She enjoys travel. The pandemic is over. Her family is having a family reunion. Her favorite band Run Ragged is performing. The airline is lowering airfares.

With proper sequence and transitions:

Brenda is going to Newfoundland as soon as the pandemic is over. The airline is lowering airfares and, as a result, her family is having a reunion there. She enjoys travel plus her favorite band, Run Ragged, is performing while she’s there.

FLOW OR SEQUENCE: is based on logic and human nature.
Common mistake is to start with dialogue instead.

EXAMPLE
Wrong – “What are you doing in here?” Joey said, as he pushed open the door.
Right – Joey pushed open the door and stopped in his tracks. “What are you doing in here?”

Most effective prose = cause + effect
• Code of efficient prose according to Dwight V. Swain is Motivation Reaction Units
• Everything that happens in a story can be broken into 2 categories: Cause (Motivations) and Effects (Reactions)
• In that order!

FIRST, there is an external cause or, per KM WEILAND, motivating factor or trigger is outside character causing him to react.
• Must happen TO character. Usually, external trigger is something in description, action or dialogue.
• EXCEPTION Editor CathiLyn Dyck said however, internal monologues by a character solving a problem or coming up with new ideas could trigger reaction – THAT would count as an internal motivator.

THEN, reaction happens in response to the motivating factor, and this can be internal or external.
HUMAN RESPONSE SEQUENCE:

Sometimes called F-A-D (Feelings/Thoughts-Action-Dialogue) principle:
1. Involuntary subconscious response (Feeling or autonomic response, like sweating)
2. Involuntary physical reaction (Thought or movement)
3. Voluntary physical reaction (Action/movement)
4. Speech

A common mistake is to place your beat (the action) after your dialogue.
EXAMPLE

“You can’t kill me. I’m your son.” Theo said, staring in disbelief at his father’s upraised wand.

In life, we either have an emotional reaction or a mental reaction to an event first. It happens quickly. We see a gun, fear shoots through our body, and we think, I don’t want to die.

These emotions or thoughts cause us to act. Sometimes an action can be almost unconscious, a knee jerk reaction to your feelings or thoughts.

Finally, we speak because speech is externalizing what’s going on inside. Speech, even when you’re angry, generally takes longer and requires more mental engagement.

EXAMPLE

WRONG:
(Motivator) “I don’t want to kill you but it’s unavoidable.” Jeremiah said. He pointed his ancient bone wand at Theo. Magic sizzled over it.
“Father, there is always another way.” (Speech-4)
Theo instantly raised his own palm in defense knowing it was too late. (Action-3)
Defensive magic gathered under his skin, as … (Involuntary physical response-1) … as shock clutched his chest. (Emotion-1)
Impossible? His father wouldn’t kill him. His own son. (Thought-2)

RIGHT:
(Motivator) “I don’t want to kill you but it’s unavoidable.” Jeremiah said. He pointed his ancient bone wand at Theo. Magic sizzled over it.
Shock clutched Theo’s chest. (Emotion-1)
Defensive magic gathered under his skin. (Involuntary physical response-1)
Impossible? His father wouldn’t kill him. His own son. (Thought-2)
He instantly raised his own palm in defense knowing it was too late. (Action-3)
“Father, there is always another way.” (Speech-4)
The natural sequence is tense and punchy, allowing the reader to feel the immediacy of the moment.

Benefits
Readers know who’s doing the talking and the dialogue is generally stronger.
Gives the readers a more logical pattern to follow so they are drawn naturally into the immediacy of the story.
The action reaction sequence keeps the reader grounded in the characters and story.

References
Marshall, E. (1998). The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing. Cincinnati, Ohio: Writer’s Digest Books.
Weiland, K. (2013). Structuring your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story. Scottsbluff, NE: PenForASword Publishing.

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