by Janis Patterson
I had a revelation while working on an upcoming project. I needed a snippet out of each of my books that could be narrated in five minutes.
Five minutes is not a long time.
The first excerpt I tried ran almost fifteen minutes. The second twenty. The third... well, suffice it to say it was not five minutes. None of the passages I had marked were. Oh, I tried to cut back, but what was left - though five to five and a half minutes - was nothing. A collection of words without direction or emotion.
Now for years I have been complimented on my writing, on my creation of emotion and sense of place. Apparently I just don't do it in five minute slots.
Which started me thinking. We have become a sound-bite society, where a maximum of opinion is expected to be expressed in a minimum of words or be cut off. Where entire opinions are encapsulated into thirty seconds. Apparently the long, slow, intensifying build-up that gradually takes you to a satisfying conclusion (even if just for a single scene) is out of fashion.
It's rather like comparing the short, often-repeating core melody of a pop song to the growing, sweeping intensity of a symphony movement. Or a lengthy master shot in a movie compared to short bursts of action like the cuts in a music video. Both styles have their advantages, both are good, and both have their supporters and their detractors.
I'll admit I'm firmly set in the sweeping grandeur of the symphony camp. Short flashes are very well, but you barely have time to know what's going on where let alone get the flavor, the emotion, the sense of place I feel is necessary for a good story. Obviously some people disagree with me, including the project coordinator who is firm in her dictum of five minutes, which means I have to dig deeper in order to find an excerpt that satisfies me at a length which satisfies everyone else.