The other day I heard a writer say that the novelist has sixty pages to hook the reader. I thought to myself, “More like six pages.”
I’m rereading The Skull Beneath the Skin by detective author P.D.James, which I first read a couple of decades ago. It’s her best book. What strikes me about it now is how overwritten it is. James takes too long to get to the point. Like many writers, she’s trying to impress the reader with the fact that she writes well. Can turn a phrase. “The well-constructed sentence.” Does the ordinary person on the street who might chance to thumb through a copy give a shit how well P.D. James writes?
My goal is to produce fiction which anyone—anyone who can read—can get right into. Immediately. Bang, bang, bang. This is what I’ve done with my American Pop Lit ebooks. See the opening to Crime City USA, for instance. It’s well-written, but it’s also dynamic and fast. If fiction is to expand its audience it has to grab the reader, whoever that person is—doctor, lawyer, fastfood worker or gangbanger—from the very first page. No one not already predisposed toward reading and with a proper amount of free and quiet time is going to plunge into a P.D. James mystery, no matter how good it ultimately is. Her books are popular representatives of a popular genre, but they’re geared toward a static market.
Yet any market has to concentrate first on growing itself. Great strides have been made the last ten years or so, through fantasies mostly, from Harry Potter to the gory works of George R. Martin. These are still geared toward standard readers—stay-at-homes who escape from the world. What of the millions of people out in the world? A very different kind of popular novel is needed to engage them.
Just some rambling thoughts. . . .