Friday, July 26, 2013

A Short Attention Span

Lately there has been some serious discussions, with some of my writing friends, about creative writing skills and the like. We're talking about expanding our HODRW group to helping some of the new writers that have joined, into becoming successful authors.

I believe in paying it forward, as it were, and that no one (in our group anyway) is too successful, ie: New York Times Best Sellers, to help some of these writers with learning creative writing skills and critiquing. Plus, not to mention, you get to know people better and create new friendships.

One of the subjects that came up between a fellow writer and I, was about people's shorter attention spans these days and what that means when writing books.

I believe this particular subject has been misunderstood. Of course, this is only my opinion, but thinking on it harder, since I do write to a younger audience, it has come to my attention that even author's with years of books under their belts and are on the NYTBL, it has been taken out of context.

What does this mean exactly? I've heard comments such as "This can't be true. Look at the size of some of the most popular books out there."

Truer words have never been spoken! 

Some authors mistakenly think this means no depth to their stories, no character investment, and no longer than 85 thousand words. They write their books with 2-3 page chapters, telling you this happens, then that, and leave you with very little plot. Plus there isn't any character development, (or very little) so it leaves you empty, searching for more. 

Now I have seen this trend in not only the newer writers, but the big time author's as well, and I have to say, this is not what this means.

What I believe it means is ie: no info dump, no telling, (or very little), and write a story people can get lost in. 

There is nothing worse that finding yourself skimming through pages, and being left with a feeling of frustration and wishing you never bought that book. 

If your story sounds hum-drum then you need to rewrite. If the pacing is wrong and there are too many explanations, and redundancies, then you need to rewrite. And if you have an editor marking issues in your manuscript, you need to follow their advice and fix them.

There is nothing wrong with the attention spans of readers today, they just aren't interested in books with these problems. Even if they don't know what is wrong with the book, they know they are skimming and they don't tell their friends to check out your book(s).

So when you sit down to work on your book, think about what it will take to reach these goals and to put out a book that most will enjoy and pass on. Success really is the key to a career in writing.

I am taking next week off from the blog and concentrating on Fated the novella, and Lore, the second book in the series. Plus, it's my wedding anniversary and I will be spending much needed extra time with my husband!
I will be back Tuesday August 5th and I will still pop in Facebook and twitter. 

Take care and have a wonderful weekend! Don't forget to comment, I love hearing form you!

Love, Lisa


  1. This is a fun post for me because it brings me back to my days at university studying psychology. One of my favourite topics was memory. I must have written three papers on memory, and I never understood it as well back then as I do now.

    You see, long after university, I discovered interesting things about how I process information. Verbally. Not necessarily auditory. I don't have a particularly good auditory memory (and practically no visual memory, beyond facial recognition), but boy do I ever remember words and names well.

    For me, there is one thing that makes me start skimming, and it's not telling. Telling isn't an issue with me because it compresses a lot of detail down into few words. I take no issue with telling, because that's how my memory and imagination work. I'm verbal. Don't mistake that for auditory. Verbal as in words. That's how I process information, that's how I remember things. In words, not pictures.

    Long-winded descriptions and lengthy descriptions of battle horrify me. I get lost really easily in lengthy battle scenes with lots of flowery prose because I can't keep all of the words straight with that much material.

    My eyes glaze over at descriptions more than 2-3 sentences.

    Studies of memory tell us that people typically remember two parts of a list. The first few items (primacy effect) and the last few items (recency effect). It's called the serial position effect. Middle details are typically forgotten. The mind starts out trying to remember all the details, and that works fine for the first 2-3. But then when the final items come along they overwrite the middle ones. They say working memory can store 7 items plus or minus 2 depending on current state of arousal, medications, alcohol, temporal or parietal lobe damage, and a number of other factors.

    A person with visual memory (i.e., most people) would relay the information in different words than were used in the book to evoke that visual image. A person such as myself is likely to use very similar words if not the exact words used to describe it, provided it was short enough to remember.

    If you store information in your memory as words, you're not picturing the action, which is a good way of compressing lengthy descriptions and making them easier to remember. For example, you don't write on your grocery list "Lucious fleshy, solid-core fruit with crimson skin." You write "apple". It's shorter, easier to remember. We have names to describe things for a reason.

    I stopped reading the Lord of the Rings because the descriptions were far too long. I do not process information visually, so giving me huge descriptions that would evoke in others a wonderful tapestry of visual information is like giving me a notepad full from top sheet to back sheet with descriptions of the items, but not their names, and telling me to go get these things at the grocery store.

    It is my suspicion, that a lot of people who don't read don't get enjoyment from it for that reason. I like things that are fast-paced because they typically have the sparsest description and I am thus likely to get the most enjoyment out of it. Now, do I occasional read things with lengthy descriptions, etc. etc.? Yes. Do I enjoy them? Sometimes. So long as the book doesn't rely on those lengthy descriptions for understanding, I don't have much of an issue.

    That's food for thought on that end of things.

  2. Short attention spans? I suspect not. I think the problem is more likely reader apathy.

    I always loved writing because I had a wild imagination and was always telling stories. But I hated reading. Absolutely hated it. Which is interesting, because now I love reading. But you see, I have the power to find whatever book I want to read. And if I can't find it, well I'll just write it myself.

    But in school, we're forced to read. Not only are we forced to read, but because they have to cater to helicopter parents, religious zealots, and a host of other people who have no business raising children (can't you tell I'm a misanthrope?), not to mention whatever nonsense "morals" the school boards buy into, the choice of reading material is often that of a dry, literary nature. It's not fun.

    I hated reading as a child and a young adult because the books I was forced to read in school, and the books available in the school library (and for that matter, the ones in the family-friendly, under-18 section of the local library) were not fun books. They were dull, boring books of little to no interest for myself, who thrives on fantasy and science fiction and thrillers. Of course, until I got into writing seriously, I was strangely unaware of different genres. The libraries didn't make finding interesting stories easily accessible, and the mainstream fantasy novels that were there were of the sort with lengthy descriptions throughout (see my previous post re: non-visual memory).

    Since the popularity of the Internet grew, I discovered a plethora of awesome stories online and in mainstream books. And I've liked these stories and I've bought these stories. I've read more in the past ten years than I did in the 18 years before that. Heck, since I got into e-books, I've read more books since the print era. It's simply easier to attain, and I find myself getting through them quicker when they're at a larger font than whatever they use in print.

    People say most Americans don't read. I wonder whose fault that is?

    And it's not short attention spans. They blame games and movies and say people can't sit still long enough to read a book because they've grown up on 1-hour TV shows and movies and video games. Maybe that's true to some extent. Cognitive behavioural theory might account for some level of behavioural training when it comes to what they're willing to do for entertainment. Maybe it's information overload.

    But what about Harry Potter? Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is 263,000 words long, which is about half as long as Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, which according to Wikipedia, appears to be the world's 19th longest novel.

    I don't know many people who haven't read Harry Potter. And if people can get through that book, they do not have a short attention span. What they have, is apathy towards literature, likely brought on by the impression they've developed of books in general thanks to the works that have been foisted upon them by misguided educators. You see, reading is supposed to be a fun activity, it's entertainment, and schools make it into a boring or downright painful act, and then they test people on it. They make entertainment into work. That's not the point of entertainment. It's not supposed to be work.

    Give kids books they love, and they will love books. Force upon them books they loathe and quiz them on it, and they will hate books and hate reading and everything to do with it.

    And that's the true problem, in my opinion.

    It may be the case that there are other things at work. Perhaps they are in fact unconsciously aware of something wrong with the books they're reading. But it's more likely, sadly so, that they are simply not reading at all.

    1. Exactly! If you write long drone out material and put it in a way that is not captivating, people lose interest. It's not that they won't read lengthy books, it's that the pace is wrong, or there is too much info dump or redundancy. Plus, people tend to become vested in the characters and if you don't create a character with personality and give the reader the feel of them then they will not care one way or the other.

      As for you not wanting to read anything other than fast paced, that's more a personal preference in my opinion. I, as a reader not only want great pacing, but also feel like I can become part of the story, that it takes me away. Maybe it's the difference between male and female too, but a lot of men that have read my book, loved it!