E-book readers, because of the strains placed on readers’ eyes, require different writing techniques and methods from writers. But where will this lead?
The rise of the portable e-book reader poses challenges for the fiction writer because of the very nature of the medium with regard to issues such as attention span and eyestrain. The very fact the reader is portable means that it is more likely to be used when the user is away from home, rather than when curled up in an armchair or in bed. The most likely usage would occur during travel, perhaps during the daily commute or on an intercontinental holiday flight. But the duration of the first would probably average out to around half an hour while the second could be in excess of 12 hours.
Ever Increasing Number of E-Book Readers
The fact of the matter is that, due to display technology, reading on a screen does not equate to reading from a printed page, no matter how closely manufacturers attempt to emulate a traditional appearance. Despite the ever increasing numbers of manufacturers and models entering this field, including the Sony Touch, the Amazon Kindle and Bookeen’s Cybook this is not the place to delve into the pros and cons of the reader as a tool, nor to make comparisons between different models. Comprehensive information on this is available throughout the web and interested parties might wish to visit Wikipedia for an in-depth review.
Adult Reading Speed
This is an attempt to look at how this different delivery method might impact the content creators, the writers, without whom the e-book readers would be worthless. Professor Alan Hedge, in an article in the New York Times recommends taking a break every 20 minutes when reading from an e-book reader. Speed reading expert, James McNair, tells in an online article that the speed of reading must be measured by the number of words read and the comprehension level of those words. His research seems to indicate that an average adult reading speed is around 250 words per minute. Multiplying those two gives a figure of 5,000 words and this is what must concern the writer.
Is he to structure his work into 5,000 word chunks where it might not naturally fit and, in any case, will offend his creative feelings? Or does he accept that readers, even of traditional print books, have always had the ability to lay a book aside throughout the reading process and should not be pandered to? And which writer wants to be reaching his 5,000 word session limit just when he is about to unleash some devastating revelation to his reader?
Snappier Prose Style
Just as the art of writing has evolved and modern readers find the works of Dickens or Scott turgid, so that contemporary writers use a much snappier and direct prose style, so another phase of writing evolution might be upon us. It is likely that the very form will change with shorter chapters and paragraphs, with descriptive passages being pared to the bone and the focus being much more on action and dialogue. If that is the case the novel may end up not far removed from a film script.
This blurring may be inevitable. There are hyperlinks within this article which take you to other web pages where you can find further information. This hyperlinking ability can also be embedded within an e-book. In a novel the mention of Vienna might, on clicking the name, take you to a photograph of the city and some local music might play. Clicking on the antagonist’s name might display an artist’s representation of the fiend. Is this still a ‘novel’ you’re reading or some weird hybrid of the novel, the comic book and the movie?
The writer should not fear this. His craft has evolved over thousands of years from storytelling round a campfire to 3D in a multiplex. He should be aware of the technologies that are coming and be prepared to adapt his work to suit. The more opportunities for writers the better.