When I was in high school I went from reading stories about horses or kids’ adventures to reading romance novels and psychological thrillers. As I picked up a new book to read I quickly realized that most novels were thick as a brick. And I didn’t really like having to go through a whole page of description of what a room looked like or how a woman’s hair shone in the sun. I found it dreary and boring and wanted the story to speed up. Sure, if a writer is very good one can certainly enjoy longer prose, such as Michael Ondaatje who wrote The English Patient. If a writer is that skilled, it will be like reading poetry. But let’s face it, authors like him are scarce.
No surprise that Ernest Hemingway became one of my favorite authors, right? I really enjoyed how he managed to tell so much with so few words, and how he let the reader fill in the gaps and let them use their own imagination. This has shaped my own writing of course. I write what I like to read myself, which is character driven stories that does not have a lot of descriptive prose. And I am not alone. Modern writers are using less descriptive prose in their novels, especially in e-books it seems. Perhaps it is a sign of the times. We live in a fast-paced society where we want to consume as much as we can every day, thus perhaps we prefer shorter reads. I know I do.
The inevitable question of course is: are we missing out on quality due to this? I believe the answer is both yes and no. A great author will know where to place the necessary descriptions in their novel, which will enhance the reader’s knowledge and experience of the characters and the settings without turning the novel into In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. If the writer is not very skilled the quality of their writing may be of poor quality whether it is long or short. In the world of self publishing a writer may be stressed to publish an e-book, wanting to get it out into the world fast, but he or she can also return to it and make changes to it afterwards, which makes the book a living thing that can grow and prosper. The world of books and our reading habits seem to have changed. What do you think of the situation?