Jan 24 2009

Please be careful with the phrase “Then he remembered…”

Published by at 3:11 am under Writing Articles

“Then she remembered…” is usually an awkward way to remind readers of backstory.  Additionally, it creates sentences that depend on a boring verb (remembered).   For example, let’s say John is investigating a murder that may have been committed by his friend Cathy.

Cathy said that she had been on a safari when the victim was murdered.  Then John remembered that she was actually deathly afraid of large animals.


This is an awkward way to suggest that John thinks she is lying.  It uses the verb “remembered” as the main action here, but frankly that isn’t a particularly important action.  The main point of interest of this sentence isn’t even in the sentence:  he suspects that Cathy is lying.  The sentence should be constructed to reflect that more than the memory itself (which is only secondary).  For example, check out this revision…

Bill said that he had been on a safari when the victim had been murdered.  John found that unlikely.  Bill was known to scream like a little girl whenever approached by any animal larger than a breadbasket.

Additionally, “then he remembered” is particularly dangerous when the character “remembers” something very recent.  For example…

John heard a scratching noise as his carefully-tended plants were pushed aside by something.  A far more menacing sound, the slow scrape of tempered steel being drawn out of a sheath, set the hairs on the back of his neck on end.

He wondered for a moment why thieves would target him.  He had very little of value.

Then he remembered the footsteps, which were still coming… [he responds]

In this context, “then he remembered” is an awkward attempt to segue from wondering why thieves would target him back to the here-and-now details about the thieves approaching.  It draws attention to the questionable pacing of this scene.  Really, if armed bandits were cutting across your crops, would you stop to wonder about why they had come?

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