The Speed Of Words
Last night I went to the 25th anniversary party for indie publisher Serpent’s Tail, appropriately held in Shoreditch’s Book Club, and was talking to Jake Arnott about different writing methods. On the way home, I started wondering why film and books have diverged so radically.
If you’ve tried to watch a comedy from the eighties lately – the ‘Naked Gun’ series is a good example – you’ll see how slowly they unfold now. At the time they appeared to move with lightning speed. Digital editing has paced up the cutting and density of onscreen dialogue, so that the first five minutes of ‘Glee’ or ‘The Simpsons’ imparts twenty minutes of old-style information.
Why hasn’t this shorthand hit books? Only James Ellroy has taken this on board – a great many English novelists are writing more laboriously than ever before. Ploughing through endless crime thrillers, I’m often staggered by their traditional structuring. Set-up, weather description, reveal, dialogue – the reader is outpacing the dinosaur-slow chapters when it should be the author who’s telling the reader to play catch-up.
There’s a patronising argument that says the core audience for print books is the 35+ housewife, and she likes everything neatly and carefully laid out (I’ve heard this from several publishers).
I tend to underwrite so severely that I’m forced to expand my novels in their second draft. Surely, if you plan to come back to a novel a second time it should contain mysteries that are still yielding themselves to the reader? Does everything have to be laid out pedantically?
BTW, there’s a great article on speed-reading here.