I write thousands of words, my books generally run around a hundred thousand words. Sometimes longer.
So a thousand words seems like a no-brainer.
But try describing the delicate pink blossoms as they hover on the dark branches of the ornamental plum. It’s a sight that must make the most harried person stop and look in wonder. Or that blue the sky takes on when the clouds have passed and the sun shines through unhampered. Or the sheer exuberance of the yellow forsythia when all you can see is a fireworks display of color shooting toward the sky, and curving back toward earth
A thousand words.
Four manuscript pages.
Should be easy.
In these fast lane times if you took four pages to describe Armageddon, much less a spring flower, you’d be shown the publishing door, and kicked back into the nineteenth century. (Okay, most of us don’t actually see a real door, but you know what I mean.)
In those days, readers savored their books, there weren’t that many being published each month. And there were only a few books stores. If you weren’t near a book store or lending library, you had to wait for the cut versions to be delivered by mail. Which came by stage coach, an amazingly quick method of transport as long as the horses were fresh. You waited eagerly for the next installment of Dickens in the London newspapers or—remember these?— monthly magazines.
The working and poorer classes didn’t have too much time for reading. We don’t have that much time either.
But those were before the days of the twitter attention span, live streaming, pinging and poking. Of course it was also the days when the majority of people had no indoor plumbing. Which probably cut down on bathroom reading considerably.
These days you pretty much have to sneak a description in during the action or your character. I don’t mind that. It makes sense to see the world through your protagonist’s eyes. Even the eyes of the villain. It makes more sense than having the anonymous all seeing narrator ( accent on the second syllable, please) interjecting just when you’ve become totally absorbed in the characters’ lives.
But there’s something sad about not being able or knowing how to take the time to savor a slow passage of writing. To roll it around on your mental tongue; appreciate it’s rightness.
What we want are page turners. Which I always thought was a strange designation. Until recently you had to turn the pages to read any book. But we know what they mean. Write a book that is so constantly compelling, so full of hooks and cliff hangers that the readers can’t put it down. Will stay up late, miss their train stop, forget to pick up the kids.
When did reading become such an exhausting activity?
Wasn’t it Elmore Leonard who when asked how he writes, said “I cut out the parts the reader skips over.”
Smart man, sad commentary on how we read today.
What words at their most succinct can do is trigger a picture in the head of the reader that expands and expounds on what they’re reading, letting them complete the scene in their imagination as we draw them into the next page.
Which kind of reading do you prefer, slow and lazy or page turning thrills?