Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Thinking Your Audience Has ADD is Bulls**t

It seems everywhere I look these days, every list with ten rules you must follow, every blog post by every aspiring writing wanting to seem like a vet of the industry, is how you have to make every single second drip explosions and tits because the audience has ADD. If every second of your story isn't the most pulse pounding, interesting thing in the world the reader will toss down your book or the viewer will decide their phone is more interesting.

Hyperbole aside, this is simply not the case. Yes, we live in a world with limitless options, yes with live in a world where we are constantly connected and could at anytime turn our attention away. But we don't. I don't, you don't, your friends don't. I have never met someone who reads the first sentence, or page, of a book and puts it down because it was too boring. I heard of people putting them down because they were poorly written, or didn't like the style of the book. No reasonable reader would put a book down after the first page because it was too slow. No one changes the channel fifteen seconds into TV show if they are honestly trying to watch it. Unless they're channel surfing, they are watching for a reason.

Most of the time we pick up a book or new TV show because a friend or some other source we trust has recommend it, not because of a commercial, or because we just happened to turn it to that channel. It happens, but it's far more likely a friend told you it was awesome and that you just had to check it out. So you sit there and watch the show, or read the book even if it's the most boring drivel you've ever seen. You at lease give the show a fair shot before turning it off, hardly abandoning the story after one page. I'm mixing my examples here, but you get my point. Most of the people I know will give a show three episodes before dumping it, three whole hours to see if it gets good. Even readers browsing through the book store will hardly judge a book solely on the story content of the first page. They take into consideration the cover, the summary on the back, the buzz they've heard, the writer's style, everything.

This whole notion of having a good hook has become blown far out of proportion over the years. Having a good writing style and interesting characters are far more important than starting your story with explosions and making sure every other page is filled with something that won't let the reader put the book down. If your story is interesting and your characters are compelling your reader is going to pick up that book again, even if they have to make time. I've had countless times where friends have told me to wait to join into a game, or to hang out because they were in the middle of a show, even if it was random internet clip. I've never had one throw down a book they were into and take off at the slightest opportunity. If you ever checked your phone in a movie it wasn't because the movie slowed down, it was because the characters didn't interest you and the plot had left you behind.

I find the entire idea of treating every single reader like they're going to abandon your book at anytime condescending and misguided. This is the exact kind a note a poor editor gives their writer without understanding the finer points of a story. All stories are made of climaxes and rest, rise and falls that move the story along and keep the reader interested without exhausting them. Trying to make every page and sentence appear to be more interesting than every alternative the reader has to them in not only misguided and impossible, it's detrimental to the over all story.

Don't worry if your movie starts out with people talking in a cafe, or a long gunman walking through the desert. If your writing is good, if your story is interesting and if  your characters feel alive, people will care what happens to them. If you started a zombie movie with someone getting their face eaten off we might be entertained, but no one will care about that person. You haven't given us any reason too. You have to show us the normal before we have reason to give a damn about the abnormal.

I'm seeing a lot of list floating around the internet these days with ten things you must do, or fifteen laws every writer should follow. It's bullshit, every bit of it. There is on rule, and one rule only. Write good shit. That's it. Write good shit. Nothing else matters. Not how awesome the reader's phone is, not that they could be doing literally anything else. Write good stories and people will care. Period.

Rant over.

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