Wednesday, June 8, 2011
the most under-examined idea in writing is the life-or-death importance of logical sequencing. (note: if you are not, for whatever reason, immediately nodding along with me here, sort of saying to yourself, "toooooootally," then this may not be the post for you. not to worry, however, as i will furnish an "introductory post to the life-or-death importance of logical sequencing" at some point this or next month.)
so read this short paragraph (published recently in The Atlantic). pay particular attention to how each sentence does or doesn't foreshadow (prefigure, if you like) the sentence next to arrive. can you follow the idea as it threads forward? what about knots--see any of them?
"The summer movie season hit full mast less than a week ago, when millions of viewers took to the theaters for the highest-grossing Memorial Day weekend box office ever. I was one of those viewers. Something separated me from the rest, though. Along with most everyone, I love movies for what they have to offer: Namely, the chance to watch awesome stuff, like good-looking people blowing things up. But as I scanned the crowd in my theater, I noticed that I was alone--in that I'd come alone."
now most likely you rolled easily from the opening lines to the third sentence ("Something separated me from the rest, though"). But with the advent of the next sentence, a brick wall emerged.
so here's what went wrong and why: the forward threading became tangled in itself, reemerging further down the paragraph, but by which time it was too late). or, simply put, writing works when it allows the reader to anticipate the coming sentence even before it arrives. if words, however, show up that confuse our predictions (and, importantly, when the confusion doesn't seem "intentional"), the thread is lost, the ball is dropped, the line goes slack.
let's look at that exact moment.
"Something separated me from the rest, though."
so we want to know what that "something" is? our brains see the writer "priming the pump" for a Big Reveal, and damn it we're going to miss out. but then (sound of needle pulled across vinyl) this sentence arrives: "Along with most everyone, I love movies for what they have to offer: Namely, the chance to watch awesome stuff, like good-looking people blowing things up."
what does that have to do with how the author is separate from moviegoers? it doesn't. in fact, the sentence tells us what is the same about the author and moviegoers. and that, no matter how post-modern you may be, is poor sequencing. because, yes, while the author does come around to telling us that he both arrived and intends to view this movies alone (loner!), the paragraph's natural logic has been hurt. in short, the logic failed to find the best path forward. and in writing, the best path forward is most always modifying forward (very, very few exceptions granted).
if you want, spend a fruitful 90 seconds rearranging the paragraph and then post your reworked version (in its more natural sequence) in the comment section.