A few months ago I did a beta read for an author friend. She’s a kick-butt writer, with a real gift for creating likeable characters you connect with and want to root for, but she had one narrative tic that I found distracting. When she described events that create an emotional reaction in the point-of-view character, she often described their reaction first and described what caused it second.
Here is a totally made-up example:
His breath shortened and his heart pounded till he could feel it beating in his ears. Footsteps sounded on the stairs above his head.
I can see where you might want to do this occasionally to create suspense for the reader (what’s going on?!), but in general it feels to me like it lacks chronological validity.
On the other hand, research into human perception suggests that we do actually perceive things at a subliminal level and react to them milliseconds before we’re consciously aware of what we’re reacting to.
(This has actually been used as an argument against free will–how can humans have free will if a large portion of our reactions are made by our subconscious minds?)
I’m opening the floor to discussion. In describing a stimulus-response situation, which should come first? Are there exceptions? If so, what are they?