Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Fast-Paced Books

Elizabeth in first grade I think life moved a little slower a few decades ago. It seemed to, anyway.

I certainly remember having four TV channels and getting up to change to another station.

But these days with digital and satellite television, we can page up and page down rapidly through a huge selection of programs. Surfing the web with a DLS modem means we can bring up websites in a second.

Even the television shows seem faster-paced with choppier, shorter scenes. And if a show like West Wing or ER needs a scene with the key players talking to each other, they arrange it so the conversation is taking place in a rush while dashing down a hallway to the next meeting or the next medical emergency.

I’ve also noticed that many books are faster-paced—for all age groups. Children’s literature and YA seems a lot faster-paced, for sure, than they used to be. In some ways, I think it’s a good thing—these books probably pull in a lot more reluctant readers by grabbing them right off the bat.

Adult fiction usually starts off with a compelling scene and then keeps things moving along with conflict (which editors advise should be in every, or nearly every scene). No saggy middles of books, either.

It makes me wonder a couple of things—is this mostly an American phenomenon (because I do think our attention spans are pretty short here) or if it extends to other cultures? Also I wonder if we’re doing the right thing, long-term, by pandering to this reader impatience.

I read Girl with a Dragon Tattoo which I thought was excellent—but slower-paced than most books in its genre. Was this because Swedish culture in general is a little slower-paced? Or was the pace just particular to Larsson?

I’ve noticed that frequently books by authors from the American South can be slightly slower paced. There seems to be more sitting on porches in rocking chairs going on (I’ll admit to writing that way, myself.) But we’re still running 100 mph in every direction, so there’s not a whole lot of difference in our pace these days.

And should we be writing fast-paced books to meet market demands? So much classical literature was slower-paced. Have we completely moved on?

I think to be published these days (at least for a first book) you’ve almost got to have a book with a plot that moves along quickly. And I do think that books have so much competition in the entertainment arena—computers, TV, Ipods, etc.—that to lure readers to novels, publishers have to look at books that will pull readers in.

What do you think? Does pace correspond with culture? Should we write to our market when pacing a story?