“Grab the reader,” they say. “Grab them by the face! Don’t let their attention wander for a second. Seriously, if you see their eyes leaving the page for even a millisecond, throw in an explosion or a multi-car pile-up to keep them engaged. Assume they have the attention span of a fruit fly.”
Okay, so maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration. However, I’ve always been a little bit leery of the whole “grab the reader” school of thought. Sure, you want your book to be interesting and command people’s attention. But the idea that you have to spoon-feed the reader delectable action constantly, otherwise they’ll wander away, has always seemed disrespectful. Presumably, readers read because they like reading, right? Therefore, they know that the concept of pacing exists, and you can’t just have a constant barrage of action all the time?
I thought I had made my peace with this, but if anything, this school of thought has gained even more traction in the world of Indy publishing than it had traditionally. Now they say, “Grab the reader immediately, otherwise they’ll return your book to Kindle Unlimited and you won’t get that sweet Page-Reads money.” With so many people publishing to Amazon and other digital platforms, the competition is insane, and you need to write crackin’ prose just to stand out; I understand that. But does that mean I have to throw away my love for elegant, languid pacing just to have a chance of success?
Get your hands off me!
I was weaned on nineteenth and early 20th Century fiction: I may not be worthy of the mantle of Thomas Wolfe, but I do prefer my pacing to be more along the lines of “slow burn” than “constant explosions.” And I wonder how much tolerance modern readers have for that. It seems that many Indy authors have embraced the “grab them with a trowel” school of thought, to the point that when I pick up an Indy book, I feel the grabbing attempt, and it feels forced and icky. Get your hands off me!At least break the ice with some expertly crafted exposition first!
A lot of modern genre fiction, particularly from Indy authors, leaves me cold. It moves like gangbusters, but I just don’t care because I’m not drawn into the inner lives of any of the characters. Obviously, this isn’t a universal thing; I think we can safely assume that the crew reading all of those 200,000+ word historical fiction epics has a pretty healthy attention span. But in the genres I write in—urban fantasy and romance— it seems like letting a story breathe is downright old-fashioned.
I hesitate to talk about this, because it sounds dangerously close to an entitled whine. “Waaah, if only today’s readers were refined enough to appreciate my BRILLIANCE–insolent FOOLS!” I really don’t mean it like that; I mean, I do sometimes pretend I’m an evil overlord, but I’m pretty sure it’s just for fun. Nevertheless, I do sometimes wonder if my preferences as a writer are at odds with the market.
After all, instead of grabbing anyone, I prefer to think of myself as poking my head around the corner and whispering “Hey, you, wanna c’mere? I heard a rumor there might be a story going on over here…” Is that viable in this day and age? Or will people put down my book before I get to the action (which is superlative, I might add), and go play a video game?
I guess in the end it doesn’t matter, because I can’t control the market; I can only tell the kind of stories that I like to tell.
Karen L. Mead was born on Long Island, New York and still lives there because she’s too lazy to move. As a freelance writer and editor, Karen lives the double life of writer by day…writer by night. Okay, so maybe it’s not much of a double life. When not writing for work or for fun, Karen also enjoys drawing, playing games, playing with her My Little Ponies (which she liked BEFORE it was cool) and watching anime. Currently, Karen is working on the next book in her urban fantasy Demonic Café series, as well as several other projects in various stages of completion. Rumor has it that dragons, mermaids and penguins are involved.