Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A sense of time

My son's been complaining about a book he's reading. He objects to the way the author introduces a situation, then spends the next few pages, or chapters, explaining how the situation came about. My son complains about TV programs too, when they start with the heroes in some unexplained danger then cut to "fifteen hours earlier," "three days earlier," or whatever...

I'm guessing the TV writers do this for a reason. Do they want us glued to the box because we want to know how the situation came about? Do they want us watching with that curious sense of dread that wonders how on earth things will fall apart so badly? Or do they just want us passively waiting to get back to the "exciting bit."

They tell us as writers that our first sentences should grab the reader, preferably by the throat (alas poor reader). D'you suppose they're right? Is my son the exception to the rule, and everyone else wants the exciting bit to come before the mundane? Or are we just substituting re-ordered information for interesting information? Wouldn't we do better to write the story forwards and make sure it's all interesting, keeping the reader actively engaged in wondering what will come next?

What do you think?

4 comments:

Laura Eno said...

I think it's because most people today don't have a long attention span. They're used to movies slamming an action scene at them. Video games do too.

Sheila Deeth said...

We watched the soccer highlights last night and noticed the same issue. Every time they were going to show a goal they flashed a fancy screen with the "time" on it--removes all the excitement of watching the ball to see what happens.

I wonder if people don't have long attention spans, or if they develop short ones because they're forced to.

maryrussel said...

Neither my husband or I enjoy flashbacks. We find them distracting. We both prefer a story told chronologically. I do find the prologue to be a helpful device for drawing readers into an otherwise chronological story though. Two of my books, I am currently writing, start with, what I hope is, an enticing prologue from a scene well within the story.

Gwendolyn Gage said...

Hi Sheila,

I have to agree with your son. If you have to put background information in the beginning chapters, why not make it interesting and fun to read? Maybe a part of the dialouge or thoughts? Otherwise people will most likely skim through it, and your in danger of losing their interest. :-)