Thursday, October 7, 2010

Attention spans and writing.

One of the things that my small group of fans praise me about is that my books are easy and fast to read. Most of them say they like how they can fit it into their busy schedule. Which I think is a good thing.

But on some of the blogs I am starting to hear complaints that no one wants to write thick stories anymore. The complaints range from "not getting enough pages for what you pay" to "but real (insert genre here) is at least 130,000 words". These complainers blame NaNoWriMo, Twitter, anything but the one thing I think they are over looking.

People don't have the time to read a book that you can use to hold up a couch anymore. Blame TV. Blame the movies all you want. But the truth is a lot of people are too busy to read. So any book that makes the stop and take a break deserves credit.

But a personal reason of mine. I don't mind the long books, if the story is engaging enough. I think anyone would agree that they would gladly read a 1000 page book, if it didn't feel like you were reading one. And that is another thing these complainers forget.

The last book I read based on reviews on how good it was, that was a monster to read, was Johnathan Strange. I never finished it. The plot sounded good. But I got to feel as if the author had expanded parts of the story to put words in, to make it longer. As if all adult fiction has to be at least 400 pages. My eyes started to wander. I was no longer interested in the story. I put it down and never returned.

Then there was Under the Dome. I would love to read it, but I put my back out at work lifting a box of them. The box only have seven copies of the hardcover. Really? Is the story that good that you can risk injury? I may try Under the Dome, I heard many people say you don't realize how big it is when you start reading it. Although my back twinges when I look at it.

This may explain why so many adults are reading Young Adult fiction. The stories move faster and usually are shorter. You can pick them up and maybe finish them in a day.

So what are you going to do as a writer?

The trick is not to get bogged down in the number of words. I will admit I added a couple of chapters to Killer, because I thought it was too short. But I made sure those chapters expanded the story, they didn't just fill it. If you realize your story has been told as 45000 words, pat yourself on the back for finishing a novella.

And if that giant story appears. Make sure it MOVES. If you are going to slow down a story, filling it with pages of descriptions of the color blue. Rethink why you are doing it.

I think the trend is moving to fast reading. Not necessary shorter stories. But keep your pace up. You have a lot of things that can distract your reader. You have to keep them coming back.


  1. I couldn't have said it better myself. I've been speed reading a lot of books lately because I realized I could pick out one or two sentences on one page and get the gist of what is happening. Your book was one I read, in a very long time, where I didn't dare skim through because I knew I'd miss something important. (Yeah, I tried it. LOL) And the reason I do skim through most books is because I am busy and don't have time to waste on stuff that does nothing to advance the plot.

    Lately, I've been picking out novellas on purpose. I figure they'll have less "filler". But I did read a 100,000+ book a few months ago that felt as if I'd read a 20,000 word novella. So it's possible, but rare, to discover the length is not going to be a drain on your time.

    Personally, I would rather buy a $2.99 novella than a $2.99 100,000 word book. It's about quality, not the length that makes a book good to me.

  2. Yes! I hate to sound shallow, but if I'm going to dive into a tome, it needs to be something I'm pretty confident I'm going to enjoy. It's not TV that takes up my time, but I have a finite amount of reading time, and if a book's going to take up the time I could spend on two others, it needs to be good!

  3. There was one time that skimming over a chapter almost made me miss the joke. In Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul. There is a chapter that Douglas Adams goes into a long description of Thor throwing his ax. It goes on for pages. I skimmed over it. And then the other character said something to the effect "Are you done?"

    I thought that was such a great set up. Sometimes you feel that way when reading long drawn out chapters.