Time Manner Place

I've begun the second draft of writing Sacred Games, which is book 3 of the Hellene Mysteries. This book's set at the ancient Olympics, and will by coincidence appear in the same year as the London Olympics, always assuming the Publishing Gods are kind to me.

By no means can it be said that I have a book (yet). There are gaping holes where I wrote put some description here, or Maybe this should go somewhere else? or I broke off mid-sentence and began a different scene when I realized during the first draft that I didn't know what I wanted to say next, or I wrote in three different and entirely contradictory plot summaries without at any time actually writing something useful. Despite which, this first draft feels more complete than the ones I did for the first two books.

The act of rebalancing sentences as I revise caused me to think of something I've never seen blogged about, this interesting rule of writing: Time Manner Place.

Time Manner Place is a rule in linguistics which says that in a sentence, you should write when the action happened, followed by how it happened, followed by where it happened.

"Thirty years ago, on the Ides of Octember it was, on a dark and stormy night, with the wind howling and the shutters banging, in a small cottage in the hamlet of Pevensey, a child was slain."

The interesting thing about Time Manner Place is that this is German syntax. TMP is most common in German, which is why I know about it, and any other language which puts its verbs to the end of the clause.

The more common structure in English is Place Manner Time.

"A child was slain in a small cottage in the hamlet of Pevensey, on a dark and stormy night, with the wind howling and the shutters banging, thirty years ago on the Ides of Octember."

When I have trouble making a sentence sound right, more often than not I head for Time Manner Place. TMP is noticeable in two distinct genres of English fiction: fantasy (epic or otherwise), and mediaeval and ancient historicals. Because English belongs to the Germanic family, Old English and Middle English books are more likely to use TMP, so anything which apes Germanic syntax is likely to sound old even if the words are modern.


Amalia T. said...

That's interesting! about things that ape German syntax sounding old. Now I want to go back and read through my historical stuff and see if that's what I did without realizing it...

Great Post, Gary!

Jude said...


Hm TMP vs PMT. How do you know all this stuff? I'm always in awe. Have you ever tried to enter Jeopardy?

Gary Corby said...

Hi Amalia. I'll bet you did imitate older syntax, in places at least.

I don't know the situation with Icelandic, but it might help you in the same way? Does Icelandic put verbs to the end?

Gary Corby said...

Hey Jude...(I've always wanted to say that)...I'd be a terrible TV show contestant. To start with, I know absolutely nothing about who starred in what movie. Also, the trivia I do know makes most trivia look non-trivial.

But in this case,it's because I speak a teensy bit of German, where the TMP rule is taught, and simply noticed the reverse rule applies in English, but that it reverts as you go back in time.

Vicky Alvear Shecter said...

Fascinating! I rarely think about structures like that though I did have my editor remind me again and again in her editorial letter to "place" my character in her setting more deeply. Hmmm, a nice little formula to think about!

Meghan said...


Loretta Ross said...


On a Wednesday evening, it was, and nearly eleven o'clock at night when, in the stealthiest and most cunning manner imaginable, upon my desk, an invidious little kitten did steal my cheese curls.

This is very interesting and something I'd never heard before. You know, just last week, I think it was, a co-worker was telling me that, English being a Germanic language, we all understand about 20% of the German we hear without realizing we understand it.

Gary Corby said...

Thanks Vicky and Meghan!

Vicky, I didn't realize until this moment that you're published. You should tell people! Does Irene know this interesting fact?

Everyone...Vicky has a book out on Alexander the Great and one on Cleopatra due real soon now.

Gary Corby said...

Loretta, I suspect the familiarity has more to do with English inheriting a lot of German words.

Such as for example one you might find useful: Cat and Katze.

Amalia T. said...

Honestly I'm not sure about Icelandic unless I look it up, and I can't look it up without derailing my writing, so I will let you know when I finish Helen revision two! :)