Are we reading differently?

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The evidence in today’s audience suggests the answer is yes. A fun article on Tim Bray’s Ongoing blog suggests that our language skills are hard-wired to grasp conversational writing, because 90 percent of human language history used only talk to communicate.

There’s nothing much on the Net that’s without precedent in spoken language. What’s new is that written discourse is becoming less like oration and more like conversation. It’s not clear that this is bad.

Then there’s Karleen Koen, a novelist who’s working on her fourth book, historical fiction based in France. She writes on her blog

As I polish (which means cut, smooth out, delete, write new things that make the reading slick) I do believe people are reading differently, with less patience — and the inherent problem with a historical novel is that a writer has to set up the background so the reader understands the world he or she is entering, and that can’t be done in a quick paragraph or two. Or at least I can’t do it.

There will be readers who love to immerse themselves in a book, get lost in the pace. But are there enough of them now, growing up in a Twitter generation, to give writers a livelihood? Bray notes that books are losing market share and adds, “Unsurprising, because when you start at 100 percent, there’s nowhere to go but down. Books are now competing, on a fairly level playing field, with the Net media: blogs and Twitter and mailing lists and fora of other flavors.”

But a certain kind of story can only achieve its potential as a book. A good friend of mine just landed a nice contract for a first book. It will be an impressive debut when she finishes. A literary pace will probably govern her writing, though. Are you patient enough to give yourself over to a pace that will match your vision for your work? One clue: How long can you sit in the chair and just write, or just revise? I don’t know many novelists who tweet on Twitter.

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