Short Attention Span Literature

Posted by

Over pre-lunch drinks before he headed to London (on the train) on New Year’s Eve (why would he want to spend New Year’s with his aunt and uncle, right?), I had an interesting chat with my 20 year old nephew. An Oxford Classics student, he is so bright he is frighteningly intimidating.

We ended up discussing modern writing and my books. “I sell Kindle books mostly,” I explained. “For some reason, I feel the print versions may ‘read’ better, but they can be ten times as expensive, and I’ve got no control over that. But if there weren’t e-books, I probably wouldn’t sell many books at all, given the price of the paperbacks.”

We also laughed about the evolution from print to e-reader not yet taking hold everywhere. “The Kindle isn’t big yet in the Classics,” he joked.

Free Stock Photo: A young businessman holding a tablet computer
Free Stock Photo: A young businessman holding a tablet computer

We then moved on to how we write today. Social media – Facebook, Twitter, etc. – has changed us so much, we agreed.

He suggested they have especially impacted how we follow news. “But no one has any time to reflect anymore,” he added. “Journalists rush to publish online, and sometimes they really get it wrong.”

Definitely. So much is happening in so many places, on so many platforms, shared by so many people who also aren’t officially journalists but are certainly worth reading. It’s great in so many ways – we follow people who are everywhere in the world.

Yet we also struggle to keep up. Our feeds overwhelm us. Tolerance for long passages, much less wading through complicated ones, is apparently becoming less.

Despite all the books out there, even e-books, one suspects many people now don’t really read full novels. That’s not a surprise. We all know even newspapers are not what they once were, although there are still some who do read print papers:

My father-in-law, immersed the other day in Britain's Daily Telegraph. There are still people who read print, day old, news. [Photo by me, 2014.]
My father-in-law, immersed the other day in Britain’s Daily Telegraph. There are still people who read print, day old, news. [Photo by me, 2014.]
In my writing, I said, I try to take into account what may be a “short attention span” among some readers. So I deliberately compose short, tight paragraphs. I aim for no more than about five sentences, tops.

“I’ve noticed that,” my nephew replied, having read my first novel.

“But I also want depth and nuance. It’s a heckuva balancing act. Write too wordily, try to say too much, and you’ll lose your readers,” I related. “It’s a shame, because some things do take more than a few sentences to describe properly. A well-written descriptive paragraph is like a beautiful painting.”

Think about it. Look at so much fiction today. It is – bam! bam! bam! – so quick:

‘I love you!’

‘No, you can’t!’

‘I do!’

‘No!’

Eh, no stealing that. That’s mine. I think it’s gotta be the opening lines to a future prize-winning, best seller. πŸ™‚

______
UPDATE: By sheer coincidence, clicking over for a “read” a little while ago, I noticed CNN has dramatically changed its web site:

Screen shot of CNN's new web site.
Screen shot of CNN’s new web site.

As I looked around, it appears very blog-like. It reminds me even of some WordPress templates. πŸ˜‰

There seems heavy reliance on photos, videos, and short headlines. Yes, you can click through to longer pieces of course. But “reading” in depth seems assumed to be almost something that’s done by only the minority of visitors.

Further thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s