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Don’t Spill the Beans

2015 July 24

A bowl of beans with a banner add on a white backgroundI believe other authors call order of actions, motivation/reaction units, but I’m unsure about that so I just made up my own description.

Often when reading, I see a paragraph of action that is out of sync. What do I mean by this? Let me provide an example:

Sally jumped up from the table. She’d been reaching for the bowl of beans Gary had passed to her. She nearly tipped over her plate. The door bell rang, and she needed to answer it.

Okay, honestly, writing that made the veins in my forehead throb. It is hard for me to do it. I had to mentally prepare for going there and deliberately telling and using passive structure. I need an aspirin.

When we take action out of order, we create a picture and a scenario the reader cannot begin to follow. The sentence structure is also weakened. I liken out-of order paragraphs to a person who can’t tell a joke. The punch line is buried in the middle of the telling, and when the amateur comedian gets to the end of the story, they’re fumbling for the lines they’ve already given.

Motivation/reaction units or order of actions means that every action takes place logically. In this way, the reader is made a part of the story as it happens.

Think of it this way. If you were sitting at the table with Sally and she jumped up, nearly spilling her plate on the floor, and then you  heard the doorbell ring, would that makes sense to you. I know, smarty-pants. Her actions would make sense if Sally was a psychic or if she was a he named Sean Spencer, but neither is the case here.

So, before the throbbing veins in the forehead turn into a migraine, let’s correct that example:

Sally reached for the bowl of beans Gary passed to her. The doorbell rang. Sally jumped up from the table. The bowl, beans and all, thudded to the floor, and Sally scrambled to save her plate from the same fate. Then she ran to answer, leaving Gary to clean up the mess.

Did you see that I was allowed to add a little more dimension to the story in one way and delete the telling? Sally’s actions shows she needed to answer the door.

Also in the first example, Gary had been passing the beans to Sally. In the revisions, without the necessity of saying so, we know that he’d released the bowl and they dropped to the floor, which shows just how excited Sally got over the ringing of a doorbell. Wonder who was supposed to arrive? Someone important, I guess.

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Fay Lamb (The Tactical Editor)  is an author, editor, and writing coach, who loves to work with authors to help them meet their goals.

Her emotionally charged stories remind the reader that God is always in the details. Fay has contracted three series. Stalking Willow and Better than Revenge, Art of Characterization Cover FINAL FRONT (2)Books 1 and 2 in the Amazing Grace romantic suspense series are currently available for purchase. Charisse and Libby the first two novels in her The Ties That Bind contemporary romance series have been released. Fay has also collaborated on two Christmas novella projects: The Christmas Three Treasure Hunt, A Ruby Christmas, and the Write Integrity Press romance novella series, which includes  A Dozen Apologies, The Love Boat Bachelorand Unlikely Merger. Her adventurous spirit has taken her into the realm of non-fiction with The Art of Characterization: How to Use the Elements of Storytelling to Connect Readers to an Unforgettable Cast.

Future releases from Fay are: Everybody’s Broken and Frozen Notes, Books 3 and 4 of Amazing Grace and Hope and Delilah, Books 3 and 4 from The Ties that Bind.

Fay loves to meet readers, and you can find her on her personal Facebook page, her Facebook Author page, and at The Tactical Editor on Facebook. She’s also active on Twitter. Then there are her blogs: On the Ledge, Inner Source, and the Tactical Editor. And, yes, there’s one more: Goodreads. Anyone interested in learning more about Fay’s freelance editing and her coaching, should contact her at

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