Monday, February 21, 2005

"Bouncing" Scenes

I had intended to get back to POV today, but I want to respond to a comment from last Friday. Becky wondered about my saying that “readers expect scenes to bounce.” Does this apply to all genres? she asked.

To that, I’ll give my favorite firm answer: sorta, kinda, yes and no. First the “yes” part. I was talking about the short attention span of readers today, based on how we see TV shows and movies filmed. Plus, many adults nowadays grew up on Sesame Street, which is very short-scene oriented, with lots of colors and stuff goin’ on. Or if they didn’t grow up on it, they watched it with their own kids. You put that together with adult drama today, plus with all the multi-tasking things we do in this high-tech world. We talk on the phone, read an email and chat online all at the same time. Plus, there’s so many books out there to choose from to read. And, there’s always our nemesis—TV. If a book’s boring, turn on the Tube. Or play a video game. Sheesh, talk about fast-paced. You take all of this together, and I do think it has an effect on readers’ expectations. They are more easily bored. Which mean we writers need to keep our stories moving.

Second, the “no” part. I was thinking of suspense when I said scenes have to bounce. This, more than any other genre, has readers who’ve been fed the quick, intense scenes of TV and movies. Just look at the way some of the TV crime and courtroom dramas are filmed. Camera shots literally bounce, like the camera was being hand-held. Quick cut-aways from one character to another. That kind of filming makes my head hurt. But we see it more and more today. So now you suspense writers out there want to sit down and write a rollickin’ good suspense, and look at what you’re competing with for readers’ attention. That’s why suspense scenes have to bounce.

Of course there are other genres in which the books can have a more languid feel. I’ve also written women’s fiction (and love writing it). That genre gives me time for deeper characterization, more introspection of the character, etc. Then if you go into what we call literary novels, most scenes don’t bounce at all. In fact, very little can be happening amid all the introspection and description and backstory.

Still, however, for these genres, I issue a warning. You are writing for today’s market, not the market of the classics era. Today’s reader isn’t real patient with long passages of description or little happening. And believe me, when you have little happening in a scene, and you’re describing for paragraphs on end, or being introspective or whatever, your writing better be primo. Because that’s all you’ve got going in a scene like that—the beauty of the writing.

So, writers, be careful. Don’t think you can let your guard down because you write in a more languid genre than suspense. You readers out there, any comments?

That’s enough for today. We’ll try getting back to POV again tomorrow.


Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Thanks, Brandilyn. As a reader, the scene bouncing makes my head hurt almost as much as the bouncing camera. I have seen it more and more, but rather than increase the tension, it makes me care less. I forget who was doing what when I last saw him. But maybe I'm reading the wrong books. (As a general rule, I don't read suspense--I don't like being scared. But if you keep writing suspense ... I may have to break down)

I'm reading a book now that bounces to a new POV after every scene. That, plus the plethora of POV characters, has me paging back to try to remember who these people are and why I should be interested.

"Then if you go into what we call literary novels, most scenes don’t bounce at all. In fact, very little can be happening amid all the introspection and description and backstory." That's classic! Can I quote you? Seriously, I think you've identified something that I've tried to say to friends who write literary novels. But my bias is showing.

Lynette Sowell said...

When a scene seems a little drawn out, I might start to skim. Uh-oh. Unless I'm reading something of Crichton, and he loses me with too much scientific "stuff," which is different altogether. But on the other hand, like someone already mentioned, if you go from one character to another too early in a book, I think it's easier NOT to develop that attachment to a story. And that would probably make me put the book down. ~~