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Will shorter attention spans and smaller screens impact the books we write?

Photo Illustration by C. J. Burton for The Wall Street Journal

Photo Illustration by C. J. Burton for The Wall Street Journal

Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal, ran an interesting article titled, The Age of Bite-Size Entertainment, with the subtitle, As the world goes mobile, get ready for more movies, books and music that can be snacked on in a single sitting.

In the opening paragraphs, the writer made these observations.

When soap operas “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” come back to life online later this month, episodes will run for 30 minutes, about half as long as the hourlong blocks that ran on broadcast television for most of the shows’ 40-year run. Why? Because they’re likely to be watched on the go.

Everyone is talking about the binge-viewing craze, but as people increasingly consume TV, movies, books and music on mobile devices, briefer is better. Shorter formats “are in-betweeners, the cream in the middle of the Oreo,” says Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive of DreamWorks Animation.

Some of the biggest forces in entertainment are rushing out bite-size portions, not just to adapt to mobile technology but to test the appetite for heartier versions. If a serialized e-book catches fire, publishers will print the novel. A short film that goes viral on YouTube can lead to a feature film or television series. A well-received EP might prompt an album.

I have to admit before this article I had not given much consideration to whether this trend would impact the way we write books. Will we have to develop characters and plots more quickly?  Will the best writers be those who can write the best chapters and then string those together into a book, rather than outline a great book and then write the chapters to fit the outline? In a media and image driven culture, will dialogue become even more important when writing a book?

These are just some of the questions I have been thinking about in light of this article.  At this point, I don’t have any answers, but I wanted to know what you think. Use the comment section to offer your opinions and let me know if you have started writing differently to fit a shorter format.

Some of the biggest forces in entertainment are rushing out bite-size portions, not just to adapt to mobile technology but to test the appetite for heartier versions

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10 thoughts on “Will shorter attention spans and smaller screens impact the books we write?

  1. rainlife says:

    Hum. Books better not get shorter, I like them just the way they are! Although books have been getting bigger the last few years to convince consumers to pay the inflated paperback prices (rising mostly thanks to the mighty ordering and returning-to-publisher power of buyers like Amazon and Waterstones).

  2. Personally, I don’t know how it would affect the books we write, but I do think it’s increasing the popularity of short stories and novellas. I spoke to a publisher recently, wondering if they accepted novellas, and I said, “I think I already know the answer.” I’ve been so used to novellas not being very marketable because of the awkward length. He replied, “We do, actually. People are reading fiction on their smart phones these days. They’re looking for shorter pieces.”

    I suppose I don’t think the nature of the book will change, but I do think that novels will have more competition as short stories and novellas continue to become more and more popular.

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