#Writing for the Impatient Reader – Thoughts, Ideas, and Tips
The way books are written has evolved. I’d like to say it’s a natural shift in how the craft and art of writing are moving forward, but it is really mostly about competing with other media. Movies, videos, radio shows, magazines, online writing, everything has impacted how we read. As what we expect from a story changes, the way we write has to adapt too.
Oh, how the times have changed! We skim, we are in a hurry, we’re used to having everything a few mouse clicks and key strokes away. And we expect the same from the stories we read.
Don’t believe me? Well, here’s an example (or rather a few). One of my favorite childhood series was Winnetou. Action-packed Western written by Karl May. Now, I was too young to realize his knowledge of the Wild West and the Apache (or all Native) tribes was limited and the book was a beautified version of… well, everything. The point is, I devoured it and it was published in 5 volumes in Romania. You see, five full novels are quite a bit for an 11 year old, but I read them all and quite quickly.
The first chapter of the first book is hard to forget. The author starts by explaining the concept of a greenhorn, then he explains how he was a greenhorn but didn’t realize it. Two pages of information which are funny, yet in this day and age, should you put that at the start of your book?… Well, I know quite a few people who have shouted info dump for two meager paragraphs. I also remember reading highly introspective books, or some where descriptions of nature and landscapes made up 40% of the book. Did I enjoy them? Some I did. Would I dare write something like that? Unlikely.
Today’s reader is impatient. No huge chunks of anything, no repetitive thoughts (even if real-life people tend to obsess over the same things over and over again), no big descriptive passages. Action, dialogue, more action, more dialogue. Fast paced and as straightforward as it can be. Go easy on the horde of characters, names are hard to remember, don’t be too vague, don’t leave any questions unanswered, don’t have too many flashbacks and timelines, it’s hard to keep up.
And then I think of Dune and all the different races and families and planets. All the religious texts, all the poems and songs, all the lineages. How did we keep up with that before? What happened to the readers? Are romance (preferably contemporary romance) readers the only ones who are still hanging on in there? Have the rest given up reading and moved on to movies and TV series?
The answer is no. Those readers are still out there, but when it comes to the majority, you are and always will be competing with other mediums. Think of the skimming of online articles – it’s why using bold and italic and subheadings is so important. Think of movies where you don’t get much of a description and of how people complain about a voice narrating in the beginning or during the movie. Think of the TV series that sometimes come out in full seasons. A one-day marathon and you’re done.
Scary? It should be. Books are art and culture and education. But before all that, they are entertainment. And when it comes to entertainment, you are competing with all those other media. Graphic novels and comic books and DVDs and TV shows. Concerts too! Time is limited and whatever is more enjoyable will win the battle.
What can you do?
Well, there are a few things
- Avoid info dumps, or at least large ones. Try to add bits and pieces of information throughout the book. Spoon-feed it all and hope for the best. You might end up getting complains that it’s hard to understand – whether it’s the world, the character, or the background…
- Visual aids and glossaries help – showing readers who’s who and explaining the factions and terms used might help a bit. Of course, if you add them in the beginning, readers might skip. At the end of the book, it might be too late 🙂
- Pray your character’s voice is entertaining enough so that readers will enjoy their description of people and places and find it enticing. Also don’t describe too much. Or too little! Readers have to be able to “see” the world you’re creating.
- Make sure timelines are properly marked – points of view, different moments in time – find a way to visually distinguish between them. Sometimes the usual suspects – breaks, separators, new chapters – don’t help enough.
Sounds complicated, I know. If you worry about everything while you write, you’ll go insane. So just write the story as you feel it, then worry about all this while editing your draft. Then get the input of some beta readers. Careful here though! If your beta readers don’t have a problem with everything I’ve highlighted, you’re screwed!