Sequencing Events in Fiction Writing
Part of any story involves an unfolding story arc and a sequence of events that, ultimately, leads to the conclusion of the story. But how do writers put together that sequence of events that make a book so hard to put down?
When we write our stories, we know that certain things that happen within the story will occur in a specific and logical order, and that each event will escalate from the previous one in order to build drama, conflict and tension, while at the same time bringing all the narrative plot threads, clues and subplots together.
Within the first few chapters, there will be the catalyst, the inciting incident that kick starts the entire story. This establishes the main story plot, from which the other narrative threads follow – that which always drives the story forward, which encompasses rising action, and more conflict and drama, before the climax of the story and where all those narrative threads are neatly tied up.
Sequencing events within a story is an important planning skill for writers. It’s the ability to recognise the structure of a developing story arc and create key moments that help to tell the story, in chronological order, so the reader can understand and appreciate the story.
Every story is flimsy until it has a framework; a plot structure. This is why it’s so important to create some kind of plotline that helps you to arrange the unfolding events. A plotline doesn’t have to be detailed. It can be a simple synopsis or a chapter by chapter brief. But whatever you use, it will provide the framework for the story and make it so much easier to place events in logical order that follow the story arc.
If you don’t have something in place, you’ll find it hard to keep the story on track, and just as hard to correctly place all the key events that will inevitably make up the story.
So let’s take a simple example of Character A taking revenge on Character B, after being bullied and humiliated throughout school. The characters grow up and move on to adult lives. But what happened to Character A eats away at him. He wants revenge. So the sequence of events might unfold as follows:
He searches for Character B and learns where he lives.
He watches him, learns all about him – this will help him plan the type of revenge he wants. He asks questions, which upsets people and raises some suspicions, so he has a few run-ins with neighbours and maybe the police. This creates rising conflict and tension.
Character B learns about Character A and wants to confront him, but he’s not sure where Character A is, so a cat and mouse style hunt for each other ensues, and innocent people get caught up.
Finally, the two enemies face up to each other for the final showdown.
A subplot or two can also be built in that wraps around the main story, for instance, Character B’s wife used to be Character A’s girlfriend in high school, so she is torn between the two characters, which in turn creates more conflict and drama.
This is a simple example of a plotline and possible key events. From this escalation of actions, you can see how those events happen in a logical order – one definitive action follows another, something that will make sense to the reader, and more incidents can be slotted in between major events, to keep up the pace, drama and tension.
Create a plotline, flesh out the story, and have a good idea what might happen in each chapter. With that information, you can create situations, inciting incidents and major events that follow on from each other in a sensible order. Make sure that each event is related to the main plot. Don’t just drop random happenings into the narrative. Everything in a story must be connected.
Sequencing events is all about planning – knowing what might happen in each chapter, when it might happen, and what things will happen because of it...i.e., lots of escalation, conflict, tension and drama.
Remember, the inciting incident in the first few chapters kick starts every event within the story, which leads to the next incident, the next action, the next reaction, the next major moment and so on, until the conclusion of the story.
By doing a little planning before you start writing, you’ll find the entire writing process that much easier.