Is reading dead? That may sound like a silly and bleak question. But is it really? Let’s explore.
In the age of Twitter, Snap Chat, Instagram, YouTube, and so forth, reading has transformed. For many, long gone are the days of lounging under a shade tree and losing oneself in prose. Twitter taught the world to express self in 124 characters or less. Instagram demanded the stories be told in photos. YouTube yields strips away the written word for visuals, while Snap Chat distorts images to make everything goofy and giggle-worthy. Don’t get me wrong. This is no shade to any of those medians. I’m not a hater. So, where am I going with this?
A few days ago, I was doing a bit of editing to a work in progress (WIP) that has been giving me trouble for quite some time with the word count. While I do understand the logic of word count guidelines, I started to wonder how a novel like Gone with the Wind, a whopping 418,053 words, would go over with many editors and readers today. I can already hear the “cut, cut, cut”.
One of the fantastic things I enjoyed about Gone with the Wind was Margaret Mitchell’s descriptions and the way she transported readers from pages to the heart of Georgia. What Margaret Mitchell saw, her readers saw. The images were crisp and vivid. On the contrary, the preference for current books now appears to be a fill-in-the-blank approach. Writers provide few details, and the readers use their imaginations to complete the scene. I’ve heard some writers go as far as saying they intentionally do not give physical descriptions of their characters to allow each reader a unique reading experience. While there is certainly nothing wrong with this approach, it can be disheartening.
For example, say the main character (MC) drives a vehicle. This is very generic. One reader may envision an economy sedan while another reader imagines a snazzy sports car. The savvy MC decides to take a road trip in his trusty vehicle. On his way, he encounters a group of thugs that run him off the road. His vehicle effortlessly cruises through the rugged terrain of jagged rocks, steeped-wall canyons, and standing water. But wait. Can a sedan do that? Possibly. What about a sports car? Maybe. However, likely, the MC owns an off-road vehicle. As a reader, I would have appreciated knowing this before I became attached to that luxury sports car I could never afford.
That example may seem ridiculous, far-fetched, or inconsequential. However, I’m the type of reader that not having details tears me from the story when the images I form in my head do not match a detail presented in the story. When I watch television, the cinematographer, costume designer, scenic artist, and prop master provide me with a vision. When reading a book, I want the author to paint that vision. I’m not interested in a blank canvas just as I’m not interested in viewing a movie without a picture. Something seems missing. Imagine ordering a comforter for a bed with “some design”. There’s no telling what you’d get.
But providing those images often means increasing the word count. Many readers are used to instant gratification. If Margaret Mitchell was to post on Twitter, she could have written there was a war with lots of deaths and left it at that. And that would be accurate. Yet, how many readers would have envisioned miles of wailing soldiers with insects hovering their rotting wounds?
The hard fact that is details do turn off many readers. Thumbnails and headlines are all some readers desire. Writing with lack details can lead to them sounding cookie-cutter and stale. Writers must decide the appropriate balance which is not always easy.
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Copies of all my books and stories are available in paper, eBook, and audio on Amazon, iTunes, Kobo, and Barnes & Noble. The links are listed in my Writing Projects page (http://bit.ly/2iDYRxU) along with descriptions of each of my novels or stories.
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Finally, if you or anyone you know are interested in joining a college Greek life organization, check out my special series posted each Monday for everything you wanted (and didn’t want) to know about college fraternities and sororities.
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