Writing for Impatient Readers


WE LIVE in an impatient society.

We have impatient readers.

They don’t want to fight their way through 500-page epics.

Not anymore.

They want novels that are short.

They want novels that have impact.

They don’t want you to fool around.

They want you quit wasting your words and wasting their time.

In the words of novelist Tom Clancy, they want you “to write the damn book.”

They want print on a diet.

Margaret Mitchell, for example, would no longer be able to find a publisher willing to take a chance and market Gone With the Wind.

It’s a great work.

It is indeed a classic.

But it took Margaret Mitchell the first hundred words to get everyone to the picnic.

Readers won’t give you that much time to get to the picnic anymore.

In the first ten pages these days you have to:

Open the story at the picnic.

It is night.

Lights are strung through the trees.

A man walks in with a gun.

A marriage fails.

A woman falls in love with the wrong man.

Or a man falls in love with the wrong woman.

That’s why the marriage is failing.

That may be the reason the man has the gun.

A shot is fired.

A woman screams.

Someone flees in the darkness.

The dead man is a stranger.

He had no business at the picnic.

In his suit, someone finds a business card.

The business card belongs to the man who hosted the picnic.

Everyone looks around.

The host is missing.

Now that you have the preliminaries out of the way, you can jump into the action.

What people want in a novel these days is what they want in a sports car.

How fast can it go from zero to sixty?

And how long can you keep it picking up speed?

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  • Boy, did you nail it with this one. Problem is, writing for impatient readers isn’t easy. I can’t rush through writing a story. I just can’t. There’s a fine line between delivering quickly and delivering quality, and it can be a challenge to find that balance as an author.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Terri: It’s like Hemingway said: “Anybody can write a novel. It takes real skill to write a short story.” It takes that same kind of skill to write the shorter novel. I still follow Hemingway who said: “Start with something simple, boil it down, take out what you don’t need.” I often find that pages I was in love with when I wrote the first draft, are simple to kill of when I read it again.

      • Amen to that. I’ve found I’m an impatient reader myself. If the first page or two doesn’t grab, I put the book down and move on to another. Hemingway had it right.

        • Caleb Pirtle

          Terri: I recently read statistics where readers give a book 20 pages, then they either read on or stop. My partner Stephen Woodfin says he has the solution. He’s going to write 19 page books.

          • Caleb,
            After reading your blog, I’ve revised my writing goals. Now I’m shooting for fifteen page books.

          • Caleb Pirtle

            And sell them as a packaged set.

  • jack43

    The long and short of it is that I need characters I care about. I wouldn’t read Gone With The Wind even if it were 10 pages. I can’t stand Scarlet O’Hara.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Margaret Mitchell told me far more than I ever wanted to know about Rhett and Scarlet. There are many great novels i have read several times. GWTW is not one of them. And for a Southerner, that’s heresy.

      • jack43

        Now sit back and watch a master put his foot in his mouth…

        I’m willing to bet that GWTW is far more popular among Yankees than in the South. Scarlet is a Yankee woman, all frivolous and materialistic. Southern women are strong, intelligent, and self-sufficient.

        • Caleb Pirtle

          Great insight, Jack. Neither Scarlett nor Rhett were Southern. They just happened to be in the South at the wrong time.

  • skipblackfridaysaveonline

    Yes, I would agree that most readers are impatient. They can read your 400 word novel OR they can watch Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, get on Facebook, watch videos on YouTube, and on and on. This is the 21st century. Reading was the major form of entertainment before the advance of technology, but that’s not the case anymore.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      Well said. One writers did have a monopoly on everyone’s free time. Not we’re just fighting for a piece of the action. If readers want bite-sized books, we have to deliver bite-sized books.

  • Darlene Jones

    Delivering quickly does not preclude quality – it means a different set of criteria must be followed. Readers don’t need long descriptions of setting or action. They have television, movies, and YouTube for that. Readers do need to get inside the heads of characters they care about. And that’s where writers have the advantage. We can show much more of the character’s thoughts and feelings than visual media can. Writers also have the advantage of letting readers form their own visual pictures of the characters, which I believe helps the reader relate strongly to them.

    • Caleb Pirtle

      You are absolutely correct, Darlene. There are literary quality short stories. there are literary quality shorter novels. It’s just that the time has come, I believe, to write tighter stories, and you don’t lose any of the conflict, tension, fear, drama or romance.

      • Darlene Jones


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