Immediacy – Writing in Real Time

By Laura Drake

When we learn to read, we’re taught to take one word at a time, reading left to right. We still read like that (only hopefully, much faster.)  We picture the scene happening in real time in our heads. That’s what I call immediacy in writing – the first words you read should happen before the next words, etc.

Therefore, the order in which we write sentences, and even pieces of sentences, is important. If we get them out of order, it causes a ‘speed bump,’ that slows or stops the reader. Sometimes they’ll need to read the sentence again to understand what is being said.

There are several ways I’ve seen (and made) errors in immediacy.

  • The Yoda Error. I got busted on this at crit group last week. Since I’m usually the one who catches it in other’s writing, Fae was delighted to nail me on a “Yoda.”

Yoda told Luke Skywalker, “Do, or do not. There is no ‘try.’” We say this about ‘starting.’ You know:

“She started across the room . . .” “He began to talk . . .” or worse, “He thought about starting.”

Movement either happens, or doesn’t.  No one can picture in their head, “starting.”

Easy fix: do a ‘find’ in Word for ‘start’ and ‘begin.’

  • Out of order sentences

I sometimes get the action and the reaction reversed.  Sharla caught this one of mine:

She ran her fingers through her hair. Her head felt as though ants were crawling on the inside of her scalp.

Her head would have to itch before she scratched it. This is subtle, but important.

Sometimes, it’s not incorrect, but the sentence would be stronger, reordered.

Here’s the way I wrote it:

What if, in December, when she was done here, she threw her leg over the bike and hit the road, only to find the road no longer there for her? The road had been her savior. The one constant in her life since dad died. It was her solace and her comfort.

I believe it’s stronger:

The road had been her savior. The one constant in her life since dad died. It was her solace and her comfort. What if, in December, when she was done here, she threw her leg over the bike and hit the road, only to find the road no longer there for her?

This backloads the paragraph – first explaining what the road means to her, so we then understand better what’s at stake if she loses it.

  • As

The brilliant Margie Lawson explained this WAY better than I could, in an earlier WITS blog (you should read it – here.) But the bottom line is:

GOOD ‘AS:’

“As” is welcome when it represents “like.”  It’s also welcome when used as a comparison.

Their personalities were the flip sides of a coin as well; her dad’s Atticus Finch to Junior’s Vinnie Gambini.

BAD ‘AS:’

  1. When it connotes simultaneity – things happening at the same time. She recommended having “A” happen, then “B.”
  2.   When it spotlights a stimulus/response reversal

Before: 

A clock ticked in her head, matching the cadence of her feet as she pounded through the barn.

After: 

She pounded through the barn. The clock ticking in her head matched the cadence of her feet.

Okay, at the risk of being accused of blasphemy – I’m not as tough about not using the simultaneity ‘as’ as Margie is. I do believe that some things can happen simultaneously, and it’s a smoother to read that way. For example, some people can walk and talk at the same time (not me, but some people.)

You should do a find for ‘as’ in your WIP to be sure you’re happy with your usage.

So? What do you think? Are you guilty of errors in Immediacy? Which one is your Achilles heel?

Laura Drake decided to write a novel.  Three years later she completed it. 500 queries, three novels, and ten years later, Laura hit pay dirt. She finally achieved her dream, signing a three book deal with Grand Central for her romances, set in the world of professional bull riding. The Sweet Spot, will be released in May of 2013. She has since sold Road Song, a ‘Biker-chick’ romance, to Harlequin’s Superromance line.

She’s a member of the Orange County Chapter, as well as the current President of RWA’s Women’s Fiction Chapter.  Twitter: @PBRWriter   http://LauraDrakeBooks.com

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40 Responses to Immediacy – Writing in Real Time

  1. rinellegrey says:

    Great suggestions. And thanks for giving instructions for finding them in your manuscript to remedy them, that helps so much.

  2. Kelly Miller says:

    My big problem word is “so”. Used both at the beginning and in the middle.

    • Laura Drake says:

      That’s an easy fix, though Kelly! Just do a ‘find’ and edit them out. I find that when I squash one of my favorite words (for some reason, ‘jerked’ is one of them,) that I tend not to overuse them again. As if my brain knows it’s not going to get away with it!

  3. lizkflaherty says:

    Great post. I think I probably do all those things. Sigh.

  4. Greetings, fellow student of Margie Lawson magic!

    I, too, got a kick in the AS’s [I couldn’t resist.]

    No. I do not want to disclose how many I found during my first search-and-destroy mission.

    My challenge is proper ordering of stimulus and response. When I’m writing, it’s all about the character’s action. My character wants to respond, dagnabbit! And, explain later. Margie’s nailed me so often on that one, it’s something I look for in line edits.

    Great reminder.

    And, now, I’m fixin’ to think about hauling my rear out of this chair to freshen my coffee.

    • Laura Drake says:

      Oh, you must be from Texas, Gloria, my husband says ‘fixin’ to’ all the time!

      Yeah, the ‘as’s’ kicked my butt, to. Still do.

      • Not from Texas, Laura, but I married a native Texan so I’m stuck a semi-permanent resident.

        Still cracks me up when they say they’re fixin’ to do something.

        Pennsylvania! The land of you’ns is my home state.

        • Laura Drake says:

          I’m hoping to become a Texan, Gloria! Building our retirement home in Midland next year! Not sure they’ll let in a biker chick – helmets ruin the ‘big hair’ thing.

  5. What great suggestions! Thanks🙂

  6. Carrie says:

    This is a great article. I have a novel half finished and hope to wrap it all up during NaNo so i’ll be doing those searches and clarifying my writing.

  7. Snickering over the Yoda error…good one! Nice post, Laura.
    Sharon

  8. marsharwest says:

    Good post, Laura. I’m also a Margie grad. And yes, I get things out of order sometimes. I know to check the ‘as” and I have 75 other’s that seem stuck in my computer–couldn’t be my head now. “Find” is a blessing of the computer. Almost all of the time, I can write the sentance better and sometimes even decide it should go. I’d never be a writer if the word processor hadn’t come around. Hats off to all the folks who wrote by hand or used electric typewriters, even with their rudimentary correcting tape.

  9. Laura, a perfect post for one who is struggling with edits right now. Love the “Margie” reminder about “as” … and yes … I am guilty of putting the cart before the horse. It’s because we backload in our heads “as” we are writing. Then we need to go back and reverse.

    Thanks🙂

  10. Sharla Rae says:

    A collection of reminders Laura. Thanks.

  11. Laura, I’m going my WIP right now to utilize my “find/replace” button. I know I have plenty of ‘started’, ‘begin’ and “bad” ‘as’ usage.

    Thanks for the helpful ideas.
    Kristi

  12. I LOVED the “out of order sentences” the best. I can really see the difference. The “as” thing, not so much. I think there ARE times when that word sounds more “normal” than using cut-up sentences.
    Thank you, Laura.
    Patti

  13. Well, Laura, you managed to list everything you say to me every week in crit group. I guess that means we don’t have to meet this week, right?
    -Fae

  14. SD Writer says:

    My problem with “as” is that it usually leaves you with two halves, instead of two strong images. So if you write:

    He walked into the room just as she was leaving.

    The reader has to stop and figure out the staging (are they using the same door…if she’s leaving how it is he sees her). The reader’s attention gets divided between the actions. Change this and you get two stronger images:

    He walked into the room. He caught only a glimpse of her skirt as she slipped out the back,

    Now the reader has the image of the guy walking into the room, AND the guy catching a glimpse of her leaving. The staging works better. So I think “as” always needs to be viewed with deep suspicion (and almost always needs to be edited out).

  15. Yvette Carol says:

    Hi Laura, I wish I’d read this post before I submitted my manuscript. I know, without looking at it, that I have definitely used ‘started’ and ‘began’ in the wrong ways!! Agh. Too late now, it went off to the publisher’s last night. Sigh!

  16. Julie Glover says:

    Yikes! I’ll be doing a word search for start and begin. Great points, Laura! And I really enjoyed hearing Margie Lawson’s read examples from your writing at a workshop I attended with her on Saturday.

  17. Chris Cannon says:

    Great article. I posted it to Facebook and Twitter to share with my writing friends. I’m guilty of the “as” issue.🙂

  18. Hi, Laura, yeah, my characters were always “starting” to do something until a crit group beat it out of me. He didn’t start to walk up the stairs,. He just walked up. (Unless he started and then got interrupted on the second step.)

    • Laura Drake says:

      Good to ‘see’ you, Richard! Hope all’s well with your writing!
      Aren’t crit groups great for beating you up? Hey, better them than an editor, right?

  19. texasdruids says:

    Great post, Laura. I’m guilty of using “as” quite often. I like to write in longer sentences, interspersed with short ones, and “as” sometimes helps to smooth the sentence structure. Not always, of course.

    Being careful not to put actions out of order is something I learned from critique partners, quite possibly from Sharla. I try never to do that, but I’m sure I slip up. Thanks for the reminder.

    • Laura Drake says:

      You’re just right – Sharla’s always telling us to ‘put like with like’ – in other words, put all the description together, etc. She broke me of that habit fast! She’s our wise one!

  20. I saw Yoda and had to read this. The tips are helpful and useful. Thank you.

  21. Reblogged this on Ella Quinn ~ Author and commented:
    Wonderful article by Writers in the Storm

  22. Great post. Thank you.

  23. C. K. Crouch says:

    Great repost Ella. I say you can never go wrong taking Margie Lawson classes. They are so chocked full of information. If nothing else buy a lecture packet and study it.

  24. Jay Dickens says:

    I think you’ve just about convinced me to find a crit group! I’m horribly self-conscious about my fiction-writing (much more comfortable in non-fiction) but it sounds like the feedback one gets makes it all worth it. Just have to edit out the “as” and the “so” that I am sure are sprinkled throughout my WIP…..

  25. Great post! First time here but this was very helpful. Thanks!

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