The Problem with Simultaneity

Simultaneity—events happening at exactly the same moment.

How often does that occur in real life? Try patting your head and rubbing your stomach or walking out the door at exactly the same moment your mother is entering.

No matter how hard you try, the movements are never precisely coordinated. In reality, an event happens first and a reaction follows.

Here are three words that denote simultaneity in writing. When. While. As.

Pick a book off your shelf or in your Kindle and read a few pages. I guarantee you’ll find one of these three words.

So what’s the problem? Other authors get away with it? Who cares?

Simultaneity is lazy.

And you want to better, don’t you? Molding your skill stronger and tighter gives the most power to the words you already agonize over.

Good writing bottom lines at clarity. If I use when, while, or as, I’m not being as clear as I can be. The order of events aren’t true.

Here’s an example:

As I was driving past the grocery store, my stomach rumbled. When I decided to stop at Kroger, a car backed out of the spot next to the entrance. While I went inside, a cart become available just inside the door.

Questions: Did my stomach rumble because I saw the store or was it just coincidence? Why did I decide to stop? Because the spot became available or did I just get lucky because I’d already decided to stop? Did a lady come through the door at the exact moment I did and see I needed a cart? Or had she already made the choice to leave it there?

Yes, it’s silly. My grocery store visit lacks conflict. But I’ll bet your article, short story, or novel teems with tension. Simultaneity kills the build-up and the flow.

The Fix: I drove past Kroger. My stomach rumbled. A car backed out of the spot next to the entrance, sealing my decision–I  needed a snack. Even better? A lady ditched her cart inside the sliding doors. I commandeered the basket and shopped for the week, loading up with the snacks I knew I’d need for the stressful days ahead. Holding hostages in your basement was a killer.

Do you see the action/reaction? I drove past the store, which triggered my hunger, and then my stomach rumbled. What sealed the deal was when a convenient spot became available and then I had to go inside.

The rewrite is subtle, but it holds more power because I’ve ordered the events. Think event (or action) then reaction.

Getting rid of when, while, and as will tighten your prose. Try nixing the simultaneity and reading your new sentences out loud. I promise your story will flow better.


  1. Thanks Lori — great illustration and sage advice! Love the patting the head and rubbing stomach analogy :)

  2. Nice. Very helpful, Lori. Thanks!

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