The Importance of Sequence

I just read a wonderful blog post by Richard Herley, who happens to be one of my favorite novelists. One of his points is that characters aren’t really free to go their own way, not in the way we are talking about when we say that we just create the character and then takes over the book. I disagree somewhat, but only because I’m extending the concept further than he takes it in this particular discussion.

What he means is that once you’ve written certain parts of the story and introduced the character, his actions are going to be bound by those initial conditions. He isn’t free to do just anything, because that might violate the integrity of the story. We can’t have him doing something that is totally out of character for him, unless we have a convincing way to explain it.

We’re not free to throw in scenes and actions that violate the established sequence unless we want to lose our readers. This particularly applies to flashbacks. “Correctly used, flashbacks have their proper place in the sequence, which is to provide information needed for subsequent development of the story. When incorrectly used, they annoy and may even exasperate the reader…”

Sequence begins with the very first line and the very first paragraph. Properly done, they tell the reader that there’s something interesting coming up. That’s what the hook is, not something clever and/or dramatic for its own sake.

If you want to become acquainted with a master of storytelling, Herley’s historical trilogy, Pagans, is an excellent place to start.

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2 thoughts on “The Importance of Sequence

  1. I couldn’t agree more. I have written this before, but the point at which THE WIRE lost me was when Lester Freamon buys into one of ‘McNutty’s schemes in the last season and IMHO does things that are totally out of character for the character. I stopped watching. My belief was UNsuspended, and the show lost me as a fan — for exactly the reasons you listed above.

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