Simultaneous Action #writing #editing

Hello, SEers! Mae here, sending out a “thank you” for visiting with me today. I’m in WIP mode right now and concentrating on writing. I’ve gotten so much better about catching “unlikely simultaneous action” with my characters, but every now and then something slips through. Thankfully, if I don’t catch the goof during editing, I have critique partners and an editor who will.

What am I talking about? Take a look at this paragraph:

Caith drew a slow breath, forcing quiet unpleasant memories. When he’d collected himself, he headed down the steps, wandering into the kitchen where he found Aren. His brother was seated at the table, bent over his iPad, a cup of black coffee at his elbow.

At first glance you might not notice anything amiss, but take a harder look at the structure of the second sentence:

When he’d collected himself, he headed down the steps, wandering into the kitchen where he found Aren.

The problem? Caith can’t head down the steps and wander into the kitchen at the same time. He must complete one action (the steps), before undertaking the second, otherwise we have improbable simultaneous action. This type of problem easily slips into writing and is just as easily fixed by adding a conjunction or reworking the flow.

When he’d collected himself, he headed down the steps, then wandered into the kitchen where he found Aren.


When he’d collected himself, he headed down the steps. Eventually, he wandered into the kitchen where he found Aren seated at the table. His brother was bent over his iPad, a cup of black coffee at his elbow.

hand holding red pen on manuscript pages

Here are some other examples of actions that can’t occur simultaneously—all pulled from early drafts of my novels:

Ryan returned to his seat at the table, crossing an ankle over his knee.
He must first reach the table, before he can sit and cross an ankle over his knee.

Someone walked along the creek bed, pausing to turn and face the house. 
A person can’t walk and pause at the same time.

He chewed on an ever-present wad of gum, blowing a huge bubble.
He can’t chew and blow a bubble at the same time.

By now I’m sure you get the picture, but here are a few examples that are possible:

Easing from bed, she slipped on her robe then padded to the bedroom door.
If the robe is lying on the bed, she can slip into it at the same time she eases from the bed. Notice, also that the action of “padded to the bedroom door” comes after the first action of easing/slipping has been completed.

He belched, dragging the back of one massive hand across his mouth.
Gross, yes, but doable if he is using his hand to cover his belch.

Do you find unlikely simultaneous action creeping into your own writing? Do you have a trick for catching it? I hope you found today’s post helpful and would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Ready, set, go!


bio box for author Mae Clair

49 thoughts on “Simultaneous Action #writing #editing

  1. Pingback: Author Inspiration and Last Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

    • It’s easy to overlook, Denise, but I do think these become easier to catch the more you get used to looking for them. If something feels “off” that’s a good start to re-examing the sentence structure. A bit like going with your gut 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Mae, sorry I’m so late in commenting. I recently learned from a valued critique partner the importance of not having simultaneous action. Something I’d never given much thought to before. I’m sure I have a few instances in my earlier books. Thanks for the great post, something all writers can learn from.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s awesome, Joan! Critique partners are the best. I’ve learned so much from mine too. I’m so glad you found this post helpful. It’s amazing how easy it is to write simultaneous action and not even realize it!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I must admit to this one, but I use it deliberately at times. In most cases it is to prevent the sentence structure from becoming too ‘linear. with constant and repeated reliance upon the basic conjunctions and adverbs, and to induce rhythm. In asking my reader to observe me as I wander down the steps, crossing the floor I am relying upon them to envisage the two actions sequentially, so it is a kind of shorthand, I guess. I do frequently break rules of this kind for effect and, well, just for the fun of it really. I am Grammarly’s worst nightmare. I apologise if it confuses!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hmm…I’ve never noticed it in your writing, Frederick, which is always so polished. However you do it, you’re clearly getting away with it, LOL.

      I avoid simultaneous action when I write but I do use ing words for the exact reasons you mentioned–too avoid too much linear writing, and to add rhythm to the flow. I always think of it as “music” when I’m writing. Thanks for sharing!

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s easy to overlook, but I’m sure your editor would catch it if you let it slip through, Judi. More than likely, it’s something you don’t do, although it never hurts to keep an eye out for slips 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What an excellent post, Mae. You named something that I am guilty of. It is so easy to combine two things without even realizing there needs to be a break of some sort or some other action to connect the two. Thank you for this reminder to watch for them!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m glad you found the post useful, Jan. I’m often guilty of letting these type of sentences slip into a first draft when the muse has my fingers flying over the keys. Then when I go back to re-read, I find myself going “Wait a minute! That’s not right.” LOL!


    • LOL! I think we’re all guilty of this now and then, Chuck. The trick is catching those slips and finding creative ways to restructure our sentences so we aren’t constantly tossing in “then” to break up the actions. I’m glad you found the post helpful!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I encounter these all the time when I’m editing. I sometimes have an and/then problem, but I don’t write a lot of -ing constructions, so those don’t usually trip me up as much. Sentence construction is so important, and sometimes we forget to look at it when we’re dealing with plot or character issues.

    Great post today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Staci. I get caught up with both as I write, and often have to stop and ponder the structure of my sentences. I feel like a cat tangled in a ball of yarn sometimes! Fortunately, it gets untangled and straightened out before publishing.
      And then there are the wandering body parts….but that’s another post 😉

      Glad you enjoyed today’s post!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have no words this morning. Even when I’m looking for these, I miss them. I’m theorizing that if adding the words “and then” would not destroy the sentence, using “then” is the correct version. I could still be way off base.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think it may be acceptable to use “then” but the strict/correct form is “and then.” It’s like alright and all right. The second is correct, but the first has become acceptable (I still like the second better for all right). It’s easy to overlook simultaneous action when we’re writing because we’re focused on so many other things (sentence structure, dialogue tags, POV, etc). After a time, problems like these become easier and easier to spot. On the flip side, it’s easy to overdo “then” so varying up sentence structure comes into play.

      It’s a good thing writers love words and creating stories as much as we do, otherwise all this work could result in one massive headache! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I suspect that most of these hiccups occur whenever we use ‘comma’ and then an ‘ing’ ending word. It’s a short-cut way of saying it. I agree with you that it’s best to weed these out by adding the extra words needed or rearranging the sentence. Thanks for a fun post, Mae 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you enjoyed it, Harmony. When using an “ing” ending word we definitely have to be extra vigilant on the logistics of action. A little extra effort of restructuring the sentence usually solves the problem.

      Liked by 1 person

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