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Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Impatient Reader

 
 




We're told we need a dynamite opening line which explodes into staccato sentences in order to creat boom! in readers' psyches for them to keep reading our novel. And for the impatient reader I'm not surprised at this requirement.

If you're writing a thriller or a crime novel or a mystery, these instructions make perfect sense. Not so much if you're talking love stories or women's fiction, literary novels or cozy mysteries and the like. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying you can get away with droll words to open your stories, but I am suggesting you don't have to incorporate the same pop as with thrillers. Or the same pace. Or the same kinds of technique to entice your readers.

We're told readers no longer wish to read epics or sagas, that reading requires time, and time is taken up with too many other extraneous activities, the number one that I see being the use of smart phones. Constantly. Texting at sports' games, at the post office, while driving, and every place else where hot spots prevail. Books can be read in spurts on phones, pads, tablets, e-readers, and PCs.

The impatient reader wants pop, snap and crackle too if fit into no more than 300 pages. This bodes well for formulaic writing and sharp, stylistic approaches. Not so much for thoughtful depth. Wait, wait before you get impatient with me. It can be done, but it isn't always accomplished with the shorter novels.

Tight writing is encouraged - maybe demanded for today's impatient reader. However, real readers enjoy the simple act of reading good stories and aren't afraid of length, depth, and different looks at traditional storytelling. Nothing wrong with "tight" writing - of which the term "tight" can be debated. However, tight writing leaves little room for experimentation and meandering and all those characteristics that can appear in the epics and sagas which have a difficult time finding a home at Christian publishing houses with few exceptions.
The demands of the impatient reader have somewhat crippled those writers who love to write and read the larger tomes. Sometimes the presumed desires of a portion of the culture morph into a trend which isn't necessarily shared by the majority but is force fed to them anyway. When "shorter" is a requirement, much story can be forfeited. And just because "shorter" is popular and trendy, it isn't always better for the impatient reader. Or anyone else.  

Nicole Petrino-Salter writes love stories with a passion. 


 
 
 
 

13 comments:

Beth K. Vogt said...

I'm nodding my head, even as I admit I'm one of those "write-tight" writers -- it's the journalism training.
Still, it's frustrating when readers don't allow for a character arc -- they don't let characters live and breathe and have time to change from flawed to, well, less flawed heroes and heroines. That is what a novel is for at least on one level: seeing characters change. And change, in both real life and fiction, takes time.

Nicole said...

Writing "tight" is a gift. I believe your style of journalistic "tightness" can also be used to create those you describe in your second paragraph, Beth. My concern, or complaint, is the criticism of those writers - such as myself - who like to go where the characters lead them, and if that means the story meanders, goes into detailed backstory, and takes its time, I believe there are some readers (and writers) who truly enjoy that arena of fiction.

Becky Wade said...

Hi, Nicole! So good to see you here.

Fast paced action leaves me cold unless I care, really care, about the people involved in the scene.

If I do care -- if a book is wonderful -- then I love for it to be long and I'm more than glad to read lots of backstory. In that case, the history and the length give me even more time to sink into the story world and to know and live with the characters. They lend the novel depth.

A book's tightness has to do with pacing, yes. But I think it also has to do with a lack of loose ends. A tight book doesn't have a character that only appears once, or themes that begin and end without reason, or an ending that doesn't fully tie up all the story lines and character arcs.

Thanks for the post!

Bernadette said...

From a patient reader's perspective, and one who loves to get lost in a deeply written story: It seems that arbitrary "shorter, tighter" boundaries are like telling a painter, "Nothing bigger than 16x20 or ready-made frames will be hard to find...and, well, people just won't buy them."

I love to read tight writing, but I love flourish, nuance, voice. Words used purposefully, yet effortlessly. Room for characters to "breathe," as Beth said. I don't love the easy read, follow the formula for the quick, predictable resolution kind of book. I always feel ripped off...like I could have done something much more engaging with my time. And I find it frustrating to begin to see that writers are being told to write to spec or not be published. Good, delicious, thought provoking writing is an art. When I read something rich that fires on different levels I not only savor the story, but I am deeply moved, grateful for the journey, perhaps even challenged or changed.

Please tell me that there is still room for the epic and for individual artistry. In His creative, divine purpose, God didn't make us all the same...in any way, shape, size or flavor. How boring it would have been if He had. He is infinite. It seems that true art should reflect infinite possibility, yet always ring with truth, if it is flowing rom His gifting. But, then again, God isn't governed by a marketing department or sales trends.

And now I have written too much...and no one will read it.

Heather Day Gilbert said...

Bernadette, I read what you said and it's lovely! I do love prose that's so poetic it makes me feel the top of my head's been ripped off (loose take on an Emily Dickinson poem there). I love classics and I've been steeped in them. BUT when I write, I realize this need for tightness (so does my agent/editor!).

In my opinion, Stephenie Meyer's writing was so successful because of a) interesting characters/storyline and b) tight writing. I do inject some poetic sentences here and there, but I think overall, readers these days just want a gripping story, without all the bells and whistles.

I think this is why Chip MacGregor just predicted a strong return of serial installment writing--people want to read in shorter blips. My friend, Becky Doughty, just ventured into a 12-part series entitled "Elderberry Croft," (http://beckydoughty.com/2013/01/10/elderberry-croft-part-1/) and I think she's headed down the right path. The real key is getting our writing, whether long or short, into the hands of the readers.

This is where the larger CBA presses are failing, as you mentioned, Nicole. I consistently hear from Christian readers that they crave more variety than Amish romance--more time periods, more locales, more topics. And I'm sure they could handle a few more adjectives, adverbs, and prose-heavy novels, as well.

Great post.

Nicole said...

Becky, good to "hear" your thoughts here too. I happen to love thrillers but must also have the engaging characters or unique hero. If I'm in love with a character, I want to know all about him/her. That requires more than a few sentences to fill in the blanks.

I used "tight" because it seems to be a favorite p-word (publishing), but so often it's used to refer to Hemingway's work. I hated his writing but enjoyed his stories. And I left its interpretation open for argument. I'm sure there would be alternate definitions if the pros get involved in that discussion.

I don't think "loose ends" matter as to length. I've seen them in all lengths. I think any style/technique can produce them - it's up to the author to connect those "ends".

Perfectly said, Bernadette. Thank you.

Heather, you've defined certain tendencies in literature. And I'm not speaking specifically of literary writing in this post. At least I didn't mean to imply those literary elements are only found in long works because they're not.

I'm sure Chip has inside knowledge of upcoming/current trends, but what I'm saying is that type of writing, literature, doesn't interest me at all. Not even a little. Never has. I won't be a patron of that trend.

I prefer the "bells and whistles" when done well. I'm not suggesting short or long makes quality. I'm saying that large novels deserve a place in the mix because there are lot of us who don't just "want a gripping story" in short order. "A gripping story" can be told in many pages just as easily as a few.

Thanks for your thoughts as always, Heather.

Brenda Anderson said...

What some might label purple rose, could be beauty to me. Tight writing absolutely has it's place, but so does the saga in which the reader simply wants to savor the prose, setting, and character development.

Look at two of the most popular CBA books, Redeeming Love and A Voice in the Wind, both by Francine Rivers. Neither skimped when it came to narrative, setting, back story, character. I can't believe readers don't want more like those two. I know I do.

Excellent topic, Nicole.

Nicole said...

Exactly, Bren.

Ana Clara said...

No doubt great peace of topic i agree with u Brenda .

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Becky Doughty said...

Nicole,

Great post today. I'm a writer who tends to end up with too man words...by industry standards. It's hard for me to write about infidelity and restoration in less than 80,000 words. It's difficult for me to explore the mysteries of love in 50,000 words - at least to make it realistic. And it blows me away when I see writers who are able to do so. I'm an epic saga kind of girl, I guess, whether it's in the form of literary masterpieces or modern tomes like Diana Gabaldon's work.

That being said, THANK YOU, HEATHER, for talking about ELDERBERRY CROFT today. (http://beckydoughty.com/2013/01/10/elderberry-croft-part-1/)

In a way, I'm attempting to fit into both worlds with this serial. The 12 (monthly) episodes, each episode averaging 8000-8500 words with the first and last around 10,000, will be converted into a 5-volume e-book collection at the end of the year - making Elderberry Croft a "long" read at approximately 110,000 words. If I were to propose this as a complete MS at this point, NO ONE in the industry would even look at it. "Too long." "Doesn't fit industry standards" etc. So, I'm catering my literary and whimsical style to the impatient reader with episodes, all the while giving myself the freedom to wax eloquently and spread my wings a little without the tight reigns of the industry. In 12 months, I hope to have a fan base for Elderberry Croft that will convince the industry to take a look.

Rebellious? I don't think so. I think it's a creative way of targeting readers AND industry people while proactively building my platform. AND I'm having so much fun with Willow Goodhope of Elderberry Croft and her new neighbors!

Blessings - another great post for Novel Rocket, as usual!

Becky

Nicole said...

Kudos to your adaptability, Becky. You're a better woman than me. Love your heart for the epic/saga and your wonderful ability to adapt to a portion of the culture. Good for you!

Tahmina said...

I totally agree. I know it's not for everyone one, but good writing at a slower pace that explores character motivations and emotional reactions make for an awesome read to me.

Nicole said...

Agreed, Tahmina. ;)