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The Meaning of Spatial Order Explained With Perfect Examples

Spatial Order: Meaning and Examples
Spatial order is one of the organization tools that helps you describe details in your writing. It is considered very logical and helps the reader understand a scene or situation better. Here, we give you the meaning of spatial order with examples.
Rucha Phatak
Last Updated: Jun 2, 2018
Dictionary Meaning
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word spatial means of or relating to space and the relationship of objects within it. Spatial order is the method of writing in which ideas are arranged in the order of their physical location.
While writing, one focuses on the story content, grammar, choice of words, etc. However, arranging the content in a logical order is as important as using the right words. When the elements of a scene, for example, are described in a specific order, the scene becomes easy to understand.

This is where spatial order comes in. It is the method of organizing content such that the details are described in the order of their location in space. It is a logical progression of a view that proceeds usually from left to right and top to bottom. This method of description helps the readers visualize the scene better. Spatial order is often used for descriptive writing. This method makes it easier for the writer to paint a picture for the reader.
► Let us discuss the concept with some examples. Take a look at the following sentence:

In my pantry, there are several things like flour, eggs, tea powder, sugar, canned food, and dry pasta.

This sentence gives a general information about the things that one will find in the pantry. Reading the sentence, the readers will picture each item given in the list. However, they may not be able to picture those items in the pantry as there is no clue of how they have been placed or arranged.
► Now read this.
In my pantry, eggs, tea powder, and sugar have been kept in the top shelf. Flour, canned food, and dry pasta are on the second shelf.

Here, spatial order has been used. The items in the pantry have been enlisted in the order of their location. This way of writing has made it easier for a reader to visualize the arrangement of items, thus painting for him, a better picture of the pantry. Thus, we see that the use of spatial order gives a structure to the description, and also makes it easier for the readers to understand it.
Let us see how spatial order is used while writing.
► The writer decides what needs to be described first in a story. He then decides to put that scene first. Mostly, that's one of the most important scenes/situations of the story and is of use in setting the right mood.

► The writer then works on the details of the scene and describes its elements in a logical order.

► When using the spatial order, he chooses to describe them from right to left or top to bottom. Starting from the left-most element in the scene, he moves to the right. Or he may go top-down. He may start from a point far from the main character through whose eyes the readers are viewing the scene.

► To form a logical relationship between the details, the writer needs to use transitions. They are words or phrases that are placed in the beginning of a sentence to connect it with the idea expressed in the preceding sentence.
Transitional words/phrases
To the side of
On the top of
At that point
Next to
On the other hand
Attached to
On the right hand
On the left hand

Transitional words like these, some of which are prepositions, help the writer give the positional details of the elements in a scene.
Let's take an example. In the image given below, a character, say, John, is viewing what one sees in the image. The writer describes the details of the scene, as seen by John, who sees from the eyes of the reader. The description proceeds from top to bottom and left to right. The writing uses spatial order.
Spatial order example scene
► John locked the door and stood for a minute or two on a sidewalk taking the scene in. The morning walk was calm and quiet. Across the street from him was a block-patterned wall of another building, stretching end to end. The white wall had yellowed through the years, but looked quite strong. The sun had cast shadows on it. A gray stone sidewalk that run along the wall seemed hushed. On the sidewalk, on the left, was an old black streetlamp. This old rusty lamp, like the wall, had withstood many seasons. Today, the lamp wasn't alone on the street. On the right, John could see a policeman standing, reading a newspaper. He didn't even look up to see him on the other side of the street. He was standing near a newsstand, whose owner was nowhere in sight. The colorful magazines, newspapers, a stand, and a chair looked orphaned without their owner. John decided to cross the road and ask the inspector about the newsstand owner.

► In the above section, the wall has been described first. It is the farthest from the reader. Then, the sidewalk has been described. Then the elements have been described from left to right; the order in which they are physically located. The use of spatial order helps the reader visualize the scene just through words (even without looking at the image).
Let us take another example from Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano (1947).
Far to his left, in the northeast, beyond the valley and the terraced foothills of the Sierra Madre Oriental, the two volcanoes, Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl, rose clear and magnificent into the sunset. Nearer, perhaps ten miles distant, and on a lower level than the main valley, he made out the village of Tomalín, nestling behind the jungle, from which rose a thin blue scarf of illegal smoke, someone burning wood for carbon. Before him, on the other side of the American highway, spread fields and groves, through which meandered a river, and the Alcapancingo road.

► In this paragraph, the narrator describes a particular scene as seen by the protagonist of the novel. The description starts with two volcanoes which are at a distance. The narrator uses the transitional word "nearer" to give the location of the village. He uses other transitions "on the other side" and "through" to describe a space on the other side of the highway. Lowry has used spatial order as a tool to organize the details of the scene.
Let us discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using spatial order in writing.
➥ The elements of a scene or ideas are arranged in the order of their physical location.
➥ The descriptions follow a logical order, thus helping the reader visualize a scene in a better way.
➥ With the use of transitional words, the scene can be made easier to understand.
➥ The use of spatial order in long texts can make the reading monotonous.
➥ Since the elements of a scene are described in a certain order, all the elements get equal weight. With this, it becomes difficult to emphasize one particular aspect of the scene.