Saturday, June 18, 2016

How Dan Brown killed the idea of chapters.

This is now:

People who write books about how to write usually advise us to cut to the action as quickly as possible, and in general, that is good advice, although it has not always been good advice. What makes it good advice these days is that contemporary readers have little time to read. They squirm in their seats, impatiently waiting for something exciting to take their minds off all the other stuff we have to do, such as check our cellphones, keep up with social media, Tweet, watch the news, shop online. In fact, today’s reader is exhausted even before he begins to read. What he wants is to be carried away from his life into a dream that will subsume his life, as if he himself is merely a footnote, but a footnote to large truths, manifest beauty, and love, whether that love is passionate, comfortable, difficult, dangerous, homely, or any other kind of love. (And there are many kinds of love.)

So, pretty much, these days, the writer has to put the metal to the pedal. Drive zero to 60. Shake a leg.

And now our moment of silence is up, and there’s nothing for it but to fit your foot to the accelerator. Get ready to drive zero to 60 in a single sentence. A lot of readers like that.

Or wait . . . you can begin, as the universe did, with a big bang. That’s good, too.
You can make a large statement, usually thematic, before you move into details, as many novels in the 19th century did.

You can begin in media res. (Which means beginning in the middle, which is to say beginning after the beginning.)

Let’s look at some of these openings. I expect most of you have already read the books I’ve taken them from, or if not, that you have previously heard these famous words. It won’t take long to go through them, and then we’ll move on to other pastures. (You can easily find these first lines by Googling “famous first lines.”)...

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