Thursday, October 18, 2007

Changing Readership - Grove

Everything changes.

I was browsing a large bookshop in Saskatoon and nearly tripped over a table pushing a debut novel called Notes on the Refrigerator Door by Alice Kuipers (a fellow ‘Toontown dweller). I flipped through and discovered the entire book is a collection of short (even weensy) notes between a teenage girl and her mother. I thought – perfect bathroom reading.

I checked at the cash register. “How’s this one been selling?” The answer was the proverbial ‘hot cakes’ one.

While I don’t think it should be said the novel is being re-invented, I do see it is evolving (or de-evolving depending on your point of view) into something even Yann Martel hadn’t expected. It’s the dawning of the hyper-novel. Devoid of setting, descriptive, and, to a large extent, context, these hyper-novels take time to explore only the essentials. They get to the story and they drive it home fast.

And they sell just as fast. Why?

Because the hyper-novel didn’t just invent itself. It has come about in reaction to the changing demands of the reader.

Some say that the world is an increasingly busy place and busy people aren’t as inclined to take the time to read like they used to. I suppose so, but I think that is only part of the picture. The larger chunk – the one that commands most of the attention is the internet.

Today’s book buyer is not just an internet user; she is internet savvy. She is adept at creating universes in her imagination in milliseconds. She shops online, mentally creating a pleasant store environment where she can browse, buy, and leave with ease. When she requires information she can query international resources within seconds, tracking and comparing answers until she finds what she needs. She chats online with friends and strangers, interacting in space and time without benefit of an actual meeting place. She simply creates the environment in her head and then mentally and emotionally moves around in it.

She doesn’t need help creating the world in which characters can meet, interact, and live out a story line. She can do that herself. Just give her the essence and she will run with it.
Writers are responding to the shift. We hear the drum beat in the jungle pounding out the command: Get to the action! We stop –mid sentence – writing the glorious details of the country garden in which we have place our characters and go in search of short, pithy, pointed descriptions that give the reader the feel of a country garden without clonking the reader over the head with the red, red roses.

We search our brains for what Spunk & Bite author Arthur Plotnik calls the ‘megaphore’. That one-of-a-kind kapow metaphor that sums up (in as few scant words as possible) the universe of which we write. While Virginia Woolf fans weep, and D.S. Lawrence spins in his grave, we, the writers, slice off descriptive. We, as they say in the movies, ‘cut to the chase’. We do so, not because it’s the best way (is it?), but because, if we have hope of being published, it’s what we must do.

There are limits, of course. If your hero needs to dismantle a bomb –timer counting down – you can hardly have him fiddle with some wires and Ga-Zonk! Save the day. Still, it’s enough to know your hero is travelling on a speeding train that’s set to go up like a fireworks factory; the reader doesn’t want you to tell her what color the train is.

The affect of the internet on readership cannot be underestimated. Spend time online, and as you do, think like a writer. Catalogue your experience regarding your ability to create an environment in which you move through cyber-space. Notice how intuitive it is. Examine the few clues you need in order to fully understand and navigate through what is, essentially, a make believe place. And keep this information in mind when you sit down to write.


Jane Harris said...

I love this. It's true, readers are different now. I think their brains may even be wired differently given that everyone under the age of 55 (may that is up to 60) has grown up in the television age. The Internet only increases the differences.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting assessment about the world of writing. I am taking a creative writing course and I don't think the teaching has caught up to the times. In other words, maybe the literary circles are reluctant to acknowledge the changes that have occurred because of the internet. It's this attitude that will make books redundant.

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