Peggy Bechko: Evolution of Beginnings – Writers Keeping Up With Readers


by Peggy Bechko

I’ve talked about beginnings of novels before but recently I’ve seen a few articles on a different angle and had someone ask me how beginnings have changed over the eons of writing. Had another someone, reading an Ebook, comment he didn’t have time to read works like War and Peace because its length depended mainly on long introductions and pages and pages of description that goes on at length about a tilt of a head or small gesture.

It got me to thinking, and reading, and thinking some more.

Here’s the thing. Each way of writing is correct for the era it’s written in. The old classics are mostly filled with long descriptions, some with flowery prose, and the like. It was a different time. And it lingered that way for quite a while. The writer would feed the reader a whole backstory right in the beginning to set the stage. They’d provide lots of description to give a feel for place and time.

Then along came big changes. First films came into being. They leaned heavily on literature for input and method during their infancy.

But things kept changing. Stories got tighter. One script page equals about one minute on screen. Stories had to fit into a timeframe.

And that’s not all. People began living at a much faster pace. The movies weren’t the only ones evolving.

Novels, once the great influence on movies were now being greatly influenced BY them.

Readers are no longer interested in long narratives at the beginning. In fact they don’t have time for them and don’t like them. The reader wants to be thrown right into the story.

Because of that the writer must evolve and adapt. Get the story moving already; backstory and description (minimal) can be woven into the story as it moves forward. Just provide enough information to trigger the reader’s imagination and that reader will fill in many gaps.

The cover of a book and the first couple of pages must grab the reader immediately or that Ebook gets passed over, the hard copy book put back on the shelf. Last I read the cover gets about 3 seconds, the reading of the first page scant more before the prospective reader makes a decision.

The same applies to scripts too. Those first few lines better grab the reader or it gets tossed quickly aside.

People are reading on Ereaders, smart phones, tablets and of course still in print. All modes are affected.

Writing and reading are evolving – have evolved – and will continue to evolve. The smart writer keeps up with the times, continuing to evolve with the reader. If you don’t. If you insist on writing in the footsteps of Tolstoy or any of the great writers of bygone eras you risk your book being put back on the shelf – that is, if it’s made it to publication which right now would be doubtful unless you’ve published it yourself.

Yes, beginnings are changing, stories are evolving, but I like it.

What about you?