Today’s article is aimed primarily at readers and writers of novels and confronts a trend in fiction that I find disturbing. I refer to pacing. I’ll give you a few seconds to nod and to express your commiseration . . . Okay, I know, not the sexiest of blog topics, but one that gnaws at me nonetheless.
This problem is especially acute in YA literature. The assumption of editors and far too many writers is that readers – due to their constant mouse-clicking on the internet, their incessant pressing of the fast-forward button on MP3 players, and their perpetual rifling through television channels with the remote control – have the attention span of an ADHD-afflicted gnat. They assume that fictional prose must follow suit by constantly pushing the pace of plot at a breakneck speed out of the fear that a paragraph of prolonged description will completely discombobulate our surface-skimming readers. I say, “Nonsense!” Most readers are smart and capable readers. I think that most readers want the depth of understanding that, sometimes, requires a narrative to slow down and provide detail and reflection. Good writing is like good pitching: one must change speeds to be effective. A good hitter then, like a good reader, learns to anticipate and welcome the change of pace.
I’m often dismayed when I flip through the pages of young adult novels and many works of pulp fiction to find nothing but dialogue and paragraphs of no more than two or three sentences. That model is insulting to readers and limiting to me as writer. This prose style does allow avid readers to pour through an unbelievable number of novels in a very short time, which, I guess, is good for book sales; however, what is lost? I find it hard to believe that much is genuinely felt, that much is deeply considered, or that much is effectively retained by the reader as the result of such a reading experience. We, as authors and editors, do little to foster readers capable of plumbing the depths of serious literary fiction when all we offer them as young readers are “page-turners” and “beach reads.” Then, we bemoan its following the footsteps of poetry on the road toward extinction.
My final analogy is more adult in nature. The array of fiction should mirror the array of alcoholic beverages available to those who imbibe. Some are meant to be thrown back with a shot glass; others are intended to be and best savored by sipping from a wine glass. The world of fiction, especially YA fiction, is in need of more of the latter.