Recently I participated in a group discussion between writers, which also means I was talking to avid readers since more often than not you can’t be one without being the other. We were discussing some of the expectations and differences in various types of books. One writer said she was revising her work-in-progress to include more dialogue, because she wanted to market her book as a romance. It was currently too much of a literary novel, which includes more narrative and thus a slower read than a typical romance. So she wanted to quicken the pace. Another question that came up was how long a romance reader would keep at a book before the hero and heroine meet for the first time. I’ve seen on various loops that editors of short romances allow 3 to 5 pages before expecting to see the first sparks fly between the hero and heroine.
The line of questioning made me realize I’m often an impatient reader, apparently just like many other readers of romance. But isn’t this also true of most books these days? Thrillers start out with a bang, and mysteries with a dead body. Gone are the classic days when writers spend pages and pages showing the character’s simple life before something comes along to complicate it. Stories nowadays start out with the complication.
However, when I sit down with a book that’s 400 pages or more, I’m willing to be a little more patient. Especially with historical romances, because I allow time for the era to be drawn, for details to bring alive the texture of another time. As one of my writer friends said, if the hero and heroine are introduced in the first chapter or two, she’s willing to wait for them to meet because she knows they’re on intersecting paths. That’s true for me, too.
We read our favorite genres because of the heart of that genre. Mysteries for the plot twists and turns, thrillers for the danger, romance to see how the obstacles keeping apart a hero and heroine will be overcome. It’s natural to admit that we’d like to get to the essence of each genre as quickly as possible, perhaps because we live in a microwave society. We not only want it our way, we want it now.
And yet I can’t help but appreciate some of the classics that remind me what it was like to explore a variety of interesting characters, just for the love of characterization. I’m watching an old PBS series called Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens, and in typical Dickens fare the characters are unique and memorable. During my walks with the dog I’m listening to the audio version of Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry and again am loving the various characters who populate the little towns around the fictional Port William. These are the kinds of work that slow life down—but in the most delightful way.
Something I need to remind myself of every now and then!
So how about you? Are you an impatient reader?