Consecutive Versus Concurrent Action
Before we start this discussion, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page. These two words start with the same letter and are almost the same length, but they mean very different things. Using Merriam-Webster online, here are the two definitions:
Consecutive: following one after the other in order, successive
Concurrent: happening at the same time
How do they come into play in writing and how can they be a problem?
Often writers are so excited about getting the story down in writing that they don’t pay attention to details. This is one of those little details which might turn a reader off. Some authors have significant problems with consecutive versus concurrent, while others are a natural with it.
What do you think of this sentence?
Parking the car, Javier walked the dog to the house and scratched his nose.
As a writer, you may think it makes perfect sense.
“Javier parked his car, walked the dog to the house, and scratched his nose. What, does this editor-lady think we are stupid or something?”
No, this editor-lady wants you to examine this sentence closely. Is that what it really says?
“Parking the car.” The “ing” gerund indicates ongoing action. Javier is parkING his car. He hasn’t already parked it, he is in the act of doing it. Therefore, he’s still in the car. (Yes, I’ll admit technology has advanced, but not yet this far!) How can he walk the dog to the house while he’s still in the car parking it? It’s physically impossible. The writer believes they have written a sentence describing three separate actions following each other—consecutive—but they have inadvertently made the action concurrent.
“…walked to the house and scratched his nose.” Since we do not have a serial (aka Oxford) comma in there—as you, Dear Reader, added when you read it—this is not a statement of three actions. Javier’s action of walking to the house and scratching his nose are indeed two separate actions, but which came first? Are they happening at the same time (concurrent) or one after the other (consecutive)? As written, they’re consecutive. Javier scratched his nose after he walked to the house. Is that what the writer intended to say?
If the writer intended to make the actions concurrent, the one or both of the verbs would have to be changed into “ing” gerunds.
Can you see how this one sentence, with varying verb conjugations and additions, can mean different things?
After parking the car, Javier walked the dog to the house and scratched his nose.
Javier parked the car, walked the dog to the house, and scratched his nose.
Javier parked the car, walking the dog to the house and scratching his nose.
After parking the car, Javier walked the dog to the house, scratching his nose.
If, in your manuscript, a potential murderer was watching Javier accomplish these efforts, it would be very important for you to get the action correct in terms of consecutive versus concurrent.
Writing precisely what you mean to say will always benefit you and, ultimately, your readers.
We’re Dun for today, so keep on Writin’!
Owner, Adirondack Editing