Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Attention Spans - Ooh, Sparkly...

I managed to click the "Send" button in my email at the right time to be entered into Miss Snark's Secret Agent contest. Amidst all the YA and MG work, I'm one of the few adult pieces in the mix (is everyone writing for YA/MG these days, or is it just me?).

Naturally, my entry is being commented on. The comments are mixed, most of them leaning towards not too jazzed. But there are two things I've made note of:

1.) The 250 words I submitted are actually different from my original 250 words. I thought I was making an improvement, but looking back, perhaps not. Hard to say because overall, it's the same scene, just different words.

2.) Along that same vein, the thing people take issue with the most is the hook and the slow start.

Now, no doubt, hooking a reader from the first sentence is important. After all, there's nothing more frustrating than having a tug on the line only to discover the fish is long gone (and with your bait too, dangit). Some people talked about how there was no action, no fantasy element, no conflict. I'm fine with the criticism - that's not what this post is about. Rather, it got me thinking about our attention spans these days.

Did you know the average time we get of one camera angle in a movie is about 30 seconds? Sure, we may be in the same scene for 15 minutes, but we'll see that scene a bunch of different ways, cut back and forth, and however else they want to splice it up. In 250 words, people expect action. They expect...I don't know. 30 second cuts of actionadventuresexcarcrashesblahblahblahoohshiny! The book has just begun, but some shit needs to go down.

I'm not saying I don't like when wild and crazy stuff happens on page one. I'm all for jumping in feet first and seeing where the current takes me. Plenty of books do that, and they do it well. But there are many others out there that need just a few extra seconds to set the stage. To prep readers for what is to come. Are we too impatient to allow for these extra seconds? A second paragraph instead of just one? Is it safe to assume you know where the author intends to go right on page one? I also don't intend to imply that you should force yourself to read a book that doesn't work for you. No one should wade through something that they don't like.

I've started up a little agreement with myself. I have so many books to read these days that if I don't like a book by the 100th page, I'll put it down. I hate not finishing things I start, but I just don't have time to slug through a book that isn't engaging me in any way. However, I haven't had to do this just yet.

But for some books, are there times when people have been a little too ADD? How about you, reader folk - what books have you read that take their time starting out before they really get rolling? Or are you all about the NOW factor?

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