I’m on vacation next week (Yay!) and for reasons I’ve never really understood (perhaps therapy would help), I’m in that clear-my-desk-of-everything-I’ve-been-meaning-to-take-care-of-since-January mode while being suddenly bombarded with contracts, manuscripts, and proposals that I’ve been waiting for roughly since, well, January and which have chosen this week to make an appearance with an “urgent” flag attached to them. Of course, it’s my blog week as well so, in full pre-vacation madness, I shamelessly stole Jim McCarthy’s idea to ask his Twitter followers to suggest a topic for him when he returned from his travels. Several people helpfully responded to my plea and I very much appreciate their input.
The one idea that jumped out at me was submitted by our client Kevin Grange: “People are increasingly reading in shorter bursts on various e-devices. Should we construct stories differently? Thoughts?”
Partly, I sparked to this one because I’ve been fantasizing about which of my books I’m going to lug a physical copy of and which ones I’m going to add to my Kindle Fire. (My grasp, as always, exceeds my reach here, folks. I’m packing books like I’ve been sentenced to solitary confinement in Siberia instead of a week at the beach with my family.)
Despite my initial impulse to deny that my reading habits have changed at all and that, therefore, there’s any need to change the essential structure of storytelling, Kevin’s question made me realize that I do, indeed, read in shorter bursts when using my Kindle (or any other electronic device). In part, this is because, I don’t care what anyone says, my eyes get tired more quickly reading a screen. Mostly, though, it has to do with the fact that Words With Friends, Ruzzle, Facebook, and the whole of the internet is also on my Kindle along with the 300 other titles and manuscripts residing therein. So, if I hit a dull patch in my book, there’s always something else to take its place.
But does this mean that authors need to write shorter? Shorter sentences? Shorter paragraphs? Shorter chapters? Shorter books? And is it already happening?
Thriller writers have known for years that trim chapters ending in cliffhangers build that all-important momentum, leading inexorably to the climactic scene involving a sinister villain, a put-upon hero(ine), and lots of weaponry. But, does the fact that increasingly we’re ingesting our literature on e-readers mean that even literary fiction and nonfiction are conforming to the dictates of our ever shorter attention spans?
Instinctively, I want to say they are, but I’ve no solid data on the subject. Basically, I’m going to keep this in mind as I read and edit and consider new projects. Meanwhile, I’ll just restate Kevin’s very good question here and ask what you all think. For the writers out there, are you consciously shortening your stride when writing? And for the readers, do you find, as I do, that you have less stickwithitness?