Monday, July 20, 2015

Fast Food and Slow Scenes

We live in a society of quick everything.

Sports cars. 0.02 second Google results. Two-minute noodles. Fast food. Instant coffee.

Technology has helped us to fit a lot more into our days than we could in the past, and this means we can make time for family, friends, and other pursuits. Like reading, right?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t read nearly as much as I should. Goodreads even sent me an email in an effort to encourage me to stick with this year’s reading goal. Right now, I’m working through a 1,500-page classic (Les Miserables). At times, the plot runs along with the reader breathless to catch up; at other times, chapters drag by and nothing happens. While those history-lesson chapters may be useful and may contain clever phrases if you’re willing to mine for them, the book clearly wasn’t written for modern audiences.

Modern audiences might have thirty minutes on public transport, an hour before bed, and (maybe) an afternoon on the weekend in which to delve into a story. Predictably, modern audiences can have shorter attention spans. After all, they’re reading for enjoyment rather than work.

Dickens and Hugo didn’t write for modern audiences.

Do you?
We know those scenes in our stories that don't go anywhere. Reams of dialogue that have no payoff, descriptions that overwhelm, subplots that confuse the main issues—these are the things that can give us a niggle of doubt.

Ask yourself: does this scene either bring the main character closer to his end goal or contribute an obstacle to achieving it? If a scene's sole purpose is to add a layer of detail to a character, ask yourself if there’s a way to get the same effect while he’s doing something toward his goal. And if you're stuck in the middle of a scene, unable to move forward, try figure out if there is a direction it's supposed to be taking. You may be struggling because it doesn't contribute much to the overall structure—and besides, a scene you don't enjoy writing is probably not going to be anyone's favorite.

Are you worried about deleting something that could end up being useful? Consider creating a new document for pasting these sections so you don't lose anything valuable.

What do you think? Can you recall one part of an old classic that left you bored to tears, though you may have enjoyed the rest of the book? Do you feel differences in scene length, pacing, and information levels when reading old books? What makes you enjoy / not enjoy them?
Caitlin R. Hedgcock is a Christian author who aspires to use storytelling for God’s glory. She lives with her family in England's picturesque county of Hertfordshire. Visit her website or Facebook page to find out more.

Two images courtesy of WikiCommons users Tom Wolf and BenAveling respectively.


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