Event Boundary

I was happy to read in a magazine a while ago that I’m probably not losing my marbles.

Not all of them, anyway. Those times when I’ve stood in the middle of a room, thinking, “I’m sure I came in here for a reason, but what was it?”

Turns out, it’s nothing to worry about. It’s only an “event boundary.”

A Time article quotes researcher Gabriel Radvansky of the University of Notre Dame in Indiana: “Entering or exiting through a doorway serves as an ‘event boundary’ in the mind, which separates episodes of activity and files them away.”

So the actual physical doorway’s to blame! The moment you cross the threshold, your brain shuts the file for the room you’ve just left and opens a new file for the next room. Goes back to square one. Hits the reset button. Shakes the Etch-a-Sketch.

Anyway, that’s essentially what Radvansky claims. And he’s got research to back it up.

This got me to thinking about revision. Possibly because that’s what I’m doing right now. I think book chapters can be event boundaries as well. As in: Hey, Renzo learns the name of the youngest bird-child here in Chapter 32, but he already knew it back in Chapter 27! How could you possibly have missed that?

Because I crossed an event boundary, okay?

Have you ever read a published book where, say, the protagonist’s beloved uncle dies suddenly in Chapter 8, but in Chapter 9, which takes place the following day, she seems to have forgotten all about her crippling grief and is deliriously pursuing a romantic entanglement with the dashing undertaker? l have. Well, not quite that book, but a few just like it. Apparently, the author wrote “Chapter 9,” crossed the event boundary, and closed the file on the uncle’s tragic demise.

So, while I’m delighted to learn that I haven’t completely lost it, I think I might just check the event boundaries in my novel not only for continuity of action and detail, but for echoing chapter-to-chapter emotional resonance as well.

I know, it sounds so obvious. But, like all too many things in life, it’s easy to forget.

–Susan Fletcher

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “Event Boundary

  1. Susan, you give me hope! And I love the parallel with writing a novel. I always have terrible trouble with the passage of time in my drafts. They sort of keep looping back on themselves when I didn't mean them to, and dashing ahead when I meant them to linger. I can see how being more aware of event boundaries may be key to getting beyond my temporal challenges.

  2. I was fascinated to read about this Event Boundary stuff, Susan. Do you think it is related to the compelling urge I get to sing when I walk from indoors to out?

  3. I love this, Susan. Event Boundary is my new favorite phrase.

  4. I love knowing there is an elegant term for what I have been suffering. Now, can gently explain to my family that I am suffering from a severe case of event boundary-itis when I drift aimlessly from room to room, muttering to myself.And what a good reminder to be vigilant for tripping and metaphorical stubbed (or missing) toes as our characters cross these same thresholds….

  5. This is great. Not exactly an event horizon, but something along those lines. It made me think of thresholds and how important it is to know you're crossing one.

  6. Laura, I love that you burst into song when you go outdoors! I'm more in the muttering camp, with Mary.

  7. Oh, this is so encouraging. Now I know I'm not losing my marbles, either—-I always have to walk back and forth through the house in order to remember the thing I was thinking in the other room. Sometimes I wonder if my chapter boundaries keep me from seeing important things. I mean, the boundaries are useful, but at times they get too fixed in my mind, too, and don't allow the manuscript to change in revision as much as it should. Thanks for the food for thought.

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