The Massive Weight of the Reader’s Disinterest

pushingWeightEveryone knows that a really good opening sentence is valuable to a novel, but the more I do this writing thing the more I think that the second sentence is almost as important, as is the third and so on.  Basically, it seems to me that the job of the author is to move the massive weight of the reader’s disinterest.  Like an over-laden dogsled (you may as well buckle in right now for a ride down metaphor lane, by the way), the reader’s disinterest starts out frozen to the ground and needs the push of a powerful opening sentence to kick it break it free.  You could even quantify this, basically as F = m*a, where “F” is the measure of how Fantastic the prose needs to be, “a” is how Awesome the reader finds things, and of course “m” is the Massive weight of the reader’s disinterest.  Easygoing readers who are inclined to get excited about things have a lighter disinterest, and this a smaller m.

But the canny reader will note that this would only apply in a frictionless wonderland, and only the likes of Stephen King have that going for them.  Old Steve may be able to kick loose the reader’s disinterest at this point and stroll alongside, whistling and giving it the odd nudge now and again so it doesn’t roll over a passing dog or something (I’m not saying he does, mind you – just that at this point he could.  Or to look at it outside of metaphor, he could publish his shopping list and people would line up to read it).  So of course, we must add the forces of friction (okay, I know we were using dogsled metaphor earlier, but even a dogsled has friction – just ask a husky), which here represent all the other things that might cause a reader’s interest to flag (TV shows, computer games, needing to go to the bathroom, etc.), which would make the equation F = c*m*G, where c is the crabbiness of the reader, and G is, um, well, we can forget about the universal gravitational constant and just roll that into crabbiness, here in the metaphor.

So the bad news is that you need to keep applying force, in the form of grabby prose, to keep the reader moving while their general cussedness tends to make them less interested.  But the good news is that with enough good prose, you can build up a little momentum, and the reader will keep going through the odd rough patch now and then.  But never underestimate that terrible weight of disinterest, that’s my new motto.

Now I just need a clever reader to quantify all those variables so that my brilliant insight can be of some use.  Feel free to do it in the comments.

~ by smwilliams on January 31, 2013.

4 Responses to “The Massive Weight of the Reader’s Disinterest”

  1. I like the way you used mixed methods to describe this. It’s time writers got quantitative with something besides calculating the royalties we’re never going to get!

    PS, Mr. King should publish his shopping list as a Kindle short. Seems like a good medium for it.

    • It is my goal to quantify every possible aspect of the writing business and bring some hard numbers into this – it works out so well when people count up words ending in “ly” to quantify how bloated writing is, after all. Of course, once I quantify a range of coefficient of reader interest friction and figure out just how fantastic a prose score needs to be, I guess I still need to figure out how to feed in a sentence and calculate F. Phase 2!

  2. After reading this, I feel a bit like Jacob Marley, clanging around in front of my computer with the weight of the next sentence crushing my fingers. Ouch!

    You continue to amuse.

    • I have to say, “You continue to amuse” makes you sound a bit like a villain in either a comedy of manners or a thriller. This is a bit ominous but overall good – no one but a hero ever gets told that they “continue to amuse”

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