We authors bemoan the death of The Novel. We blame the Internet. We blame Amazon. We blame the ever-shortening attention spans of our readers. We long to write the florid prose of Proust or the unflinching description of Pynchon with the incomprehensible genius of Joyce. “Where are the indulgent readers of yore who thirst for the unabridged tome?” we ask. Though I’m fairly certain sure these oft-reminisced readers never existed in any statistically relevant way, there is no denying the Twitter-ization of the mainstream literary appetite.
What do we novelists do in response? Do we strive for the compressed brevity of Hemingway? Do we forgo The Novel for The Blog? Do we jump on the cell phone novel bandwagon? There are other options that don’t force such severe compromise.
When I was writing my first novel, my editor gave me an assignment:
- You depend too much on transition markers, she told me. (Transition markers are visual formatting cues, often a line of asterisks, to signal to the reader that a transition in time has occurred.) A well-written time shift can carry the reader through the transition without reliance on such obvious literary crutches, she said.
I went home and struggled to clarify ambiguous segues and inserted temporal clauses. In the end, I cheated. I turned many of my transition markers into chapter breaks—my chapter count went from five to sixty-nine.
To this day, I have readers say to me,
- You know one of the things I love about your writing—short chapters. I don’t have to slog through umpteen pages to find out what happens in a scene.
So be it. At least I don’t have to figure out how to shorten my next novel to a haiku.