One thing that always gets me up in arms is the way some creative works are meant to be experienced over and over, while others get just one shot to impress.
For example, you’ve probably heard your favourite song dozens of times. The other day, my youngest daughter was playing a “name that tune” game at school and won when she identified Shake It Off by Taylor Swift in two notes. And is she sick and tired of hearing it, now that she knows it forward and backwards? No, no she is not.
Songwriters are in it for the long game. The works they create have time to grow on you. Sure, they might not make it big on the radio if they don’t have that instantly-catchy quality. But some songs – Bohemian Rhapsody, for example, or Stairway To Heaven – seemed to have been written expressly to fight that uphill battle. To challenge and be weird and too long and difficult, but due to repeated listenings, their inner beauty and secret joys are discovered.
Movies and TV are the same way – we’re rewatching a few old shows now with the kids, and I’ve seen Star Wars so many times I can literally quote the entire script, front to back – and yet I still crave it once a year. Poetry, too, I think demands – and deserves – to be read multiple times, to soak it in from different perspectives, to mull it over and come back to it until you’ve absorbed its meaning through osmosis.
But fiction. Poor, poor fiction. I think fiction gets really just one shot to grab you. You’re in or out. Sometimes a book only gets a first chapter to impress. Sometimes only a first line.
I recently did an interesting assignment in a writing class I’m taking where we had to experiment with different openings to the same story. This led to an interesting discussion: is it always better to hook your reader by dropping them into action, or dialogue, or a crazy mind-twisting puzzle, or is it okay sometimes to lead a little slower, to take an old-fashioned, Jane Austen approach to introducing the characters and setup?
And that led to the question of what kind of audience you want, what kind of readers you’re hoping for – those that are looking for a quick fix, or those that are willing to curl up and let things simmer for a bit before they start to pay off?
And is there some magical way to satisfy both kinds of readers at once?
In any case, I feel like a great book is something that often only gets read once. There’s just too much great reading to do, and not enough time; reading a book takes so much longer than watching a TV show or listening to a song, and I only have so many years left. I’ll never get through my Amazon wish list as it is. So writers of fiction beware: you’ve got to suck me in early, and make the ride really memorable, if you’re to stand out. Because it’s likely we’re going to have a quick fling and move on – hopefully with happy nostalgia, but that’s the best you can hope for.
Do you think your writing lives up to the one-time-only reading?