Follow by Email

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

sequencing, logical



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.

6 comments:

Tine Wiggens said...

Sorry, completely unrelated here. Stopping by and inviting you to play. A little snippet just flew into my mind:
"He hadn't envisioned it to be like this. Anything but this. But then why shouldn't it be like this? He drew in his breath. The air was cold and hurt his lungs. As he slowly lifted his head his glance fell upon --- " Your turn Ari! Want to continue? ;)

billieball said...

He hadn't envisioned it to be like this. Anything but this. But then why shouldn't it be like this? He drew in his breath. The air was cold and hurt his lungs. As he slowly lifted his head his glance fell upon the door. he would have to give his speech whether it wanted to or not. nothing--in the grandest of schemes--was really at stake either way. he would give a good talk and people who smile and say something kind afterward. or he would bomb. and people would just sort of shrug their shoulders in indifference. after all, what had they expected from him anyway.

Tine Wiggens said...

He hadn't envisioned it to be like this. Anything but this. But then why shouldn't it be like this? He drew in his breath. The air was cold and hurt his lungs. As he slowly lifted his head his glance fell upon the door. he would have to give his speech whether it wanted to or not. nothing--in the grandest of schemes--was really at stake either way. he would give a good talk and people who smile and say something kind afterward. or he would bomb. and people would just sort of shrug their shoulders in indifference. after all, what had they expected from him anyway.
A quick glance at his watch told him it was almost time. He nodded at the couple that pushed themselves past him through the door. It was busier in 'Le Chalet' than usual. The smell of good food enveloped him and had a calming effect on his frazzled nerves. He looked around and people seemed to enjoy themselves with good conversations and cheerful laughter which echoed through the grand room.

Tine Wiggens said...

Not sure it is the right setting for him but it was what came to mind ;)

billieball said...

He hadn't envisioned it to be like this. Anything but this. But then why shouldn't it be like this? He drew in his breath. The air was cold and hurt his lungs. As he slowly lifted his head his glance fell upon the door. he would have to give his speech whether he wanted to or not. nothing--in the grandest of schemes--was really at stake either way. he would give a good talk and people would smile and say something kind afterward. or he would bomb. and people would just sort of shrug their shoulders in indifference. after all, what had they expected from him anyway.
A quick glance at his watch told him it was almost time. He nodded at the couple that pushed themselves past him through the door. It was busier in 'Le Chalet' than usual. The smell of good food enveloped him and had a calming effect on his frazzled nerves. He looked around and people seemed to enjoy themselves with good conversations and cheerful laughter which echoed through the grand room.

he walked toward the table, his face a sort of friendly mask, polite expression trying to acknowledge the group but without locking in on anyone in particular. he used to love to speak to an audience as a kid (even if it were only his family or classmates or fellow campers), but his hands would twitch so visibly, flickering with wayward electricity, that he was forced to memorize his speeches and shove his hands into his back pockets. later, he felt more at ease when speaking in public, but looked forward to it less and less. a thin slice of lemon floated toward the bottom of his water, and he jabbed at the fruit with his straw before taking a deep drink.

Tine Wiggens said...

He hadn't envisioned it to be like this. Anything but this. But then why shouldn't it be like this? He drew in his breath. The air was cold and hurt his lungs. As he slowly lifted his head his glance fell upon the door. he would have to give his speech whether he wanted to or not. nothing--in the grandest of schemes--was really at stake either way. he would give a good talk and people would smile and say something kind afterward. or he would bomb. and people would just sort of shrug their shoulders in indifference. after all, what had they expected from him anyway.
A quick glance at his watch told him it was almost time. He nodded at the couple that pushed themselves past him through the door. It was busier in 'Le Chalet' than usual. The smell of good food enveloped him and had a calming effect on his frazzled nerves. He looked around and people seemed to enjoy themselves with good conversations and cheerful laughter which echoed through the grand room.

he walked toward the table, his face a sort of friendly mask, polite expression trying to acknowledge the group but without locking in on anyone in particular. he used to love to speak to an audience as a kid (even if it were only his family or classmates or fellow campers), but his hands would twitch so visibly, flickering with wayward electricity, that he was forced to memorize his speeches and shove his hands into his back pockets. later, he felt more at ease when speaking in public, but looked forward to it less and less. a thin slice of lemon floated toward the bottom of his water, and he jabbed at the fruit with his straw before taking a deep drink.

'Excusez-Moi Monsieur? Docteur Woodbridge?' the woman next to him whispered in a polite soft voice while gently touching his arm. He nodded a silent 'Thank you', swollowed hard and got up and walked to the head of the table, his yellow index cards clenched in his hand. The forced smile on his face began to relax when he saw the expectant friendly faces that had gathered around the table smiling at him.
'Good evening everyone, bonsoir. It is a great pleasure for me to be here tonight. As my brother has already highlighted