Improve Your Sequencing To Improve Your Writing - Joanna Campbell Slan

Improve Your Sequencing To Improve Your Writing


This morning I heard a radio commercial about a pair of work gloves. The announcer explained that these were “more abrasion and tear resistant than leather.”

I was left wondering, “Does he mean the surface of the gloves is abrasive?”

I doubt that. I suspect he meant that the surface of the gloves was “more resistant to tears and abrasion than leather.” (And if he had added one word–“tougher”–the whole description would have made more sense: “tougher, more resistant to tears and abrasion than leather.”)

Sequencing.  A tricky concept. One that I’m working to become more aware of. It’s incredibly difficult because we aren’t dealing with a right or a wrong. We’re working in shades of gray here. But even a slight change of shading can make our meaning more clear. And that translates into a more enjoyable read for our audience.

Here are a few rules:

1. Put the longest portion or phrase last.

Instead of this:

“He bought the fancy can opener and the toaster.”

Try this:

“He bought the toaster and the fancy can opener.”

2. Share the summary first, the particulars last.

Instead of this:

“Gracie, my harlequin Great Dane, pushed past me so she could
sniff at Detweiler. In a contest between me and the cop, I’d come in a distant second. My pup loves me, but I have no illusions.” 

Try this:

“Gracie, my harlequin Great Dane, pushed past me so she could sniff at Detweiler. My pup loves me, but I have no illusions. In a contest between me and the cop, I’d come in a distant second.” 
3. Double-check all actions for logical sequence. You may find duplication or confusing language.

Instead of this:

            “I’d be
delighted to join you,” Laurel said, as she pulled up a chair to sit next to
Mary Martha.

            “There’s an
extra chair right here,” said Dolores, uncovering a seat that had previously
been hidden by piles of scrapbook supplies.

Try this:

            “I’d be
delighted to join you,” Laurel said, as she glanced around for a place to sit.

            “There’s an
extra chair right here,” said Dolores, uncovering a seat that had previously
been hidden by piles of scrapbook supplies.

4. Ground your reader in the place and time first.  Start with “where” and “when.”

5. Keep adjectives or modifying phrases next to the words they modify.

Instead of this:

“A commercial that I heard on the radio this morning talked about a pair of gloves.”

Try this:

“This morning I heard a radio commercial about a pair of gloves.”

As I come up with more examples, I’ll share them with you.

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