Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Goldfish Myth Still Matters by Marie Wells Coutu

A Goldfish and His Castle
Goldfish have a longer attention span than the average person in 2018. Maybe.

Or maybe not. A Google search on “attention spans” produces articles stating the average human attention span has dropped from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds now. And that the attention span of a goldfish is 9 seconds.

On the other hand, the BBC talked to several researchers and concluded, “Goldfish don't have short attention spans or memories. There is no evidence human attention spans are shrinking.”

Even Twitter expanded its message limit from 140 characters to 280. Perhaps users are willing to read longer messages.

In our world of smartphones, time-limited social media, channel-flipping, and multi-tasking, it seems obvious that audiences make quick decisions on what they will pay attention to.

What does this mean for writers?

Whether attention spans are shrinking or not, the rapid assault of information and the multiplying sources vying for attention make capturing readers more challenging.

“The key to engaging content is a compelling narrative combined with stimulating visuals and dialogue,” said one marketing technology company reporting on the 2018 State of Attention Report from Prezi.

Prezi is a presentation software company, and the article was directed at business professionals. However, the conclusion applies to fiction writers, too.

The average novel today is shorter than it was a hundred years ago. Chapters are often as short as two pages, paragraphs have shrunk, and descriptive passages certainly have to be more concise. (I still remember slogging through pages of description of the moors in Wuthering Heights.)

But engaging readers doesn’t happen only by shortening your content. It takes that “compelling narrative” and believable, gripping dialogue. While you won’t have visuals unless you’re writing a children’s book, you can provide “stimulating” descriptions that enable the reader to visualize the characters and settings.

Many readers decide whether to buy your book after reading the first paragraph. Like a goldfish, they give you only seconds before rejecting your story and moving on.

In other words, the key to holding a reader’s attention is excellent craft.

Don’t let your own short attention span (you just got an idea for the next story and you can’t wait to write it) cause you to bypass the difficult work of revising and editing to make your current work-in-progress the best it can be.

That’s what will attract readers and keep them coming back for more.

About the Author

Marie Wells Coutu
Marie Wells Coutu’s newest novel, The Secret Heart, from Write Integrity Press, was named a finalist in both the 2018 National Excellence in Romantic Fiction Awards and the 2018 Royal Palm Literary Awards sponsored by Florida Writers Association. Her debut novel, For Such a Moment, won the Books of Hope Contest. Thirsting for More, the second book in the series was a finalist in the Selah Awards Contest and a semi-finalist in the Royal Palm Literary Awards. An unpublished historical novel set near Golden Pond has been a finalist in five contests.

The Secret Heart by Marie Wells Coutu
You can find more about Marie and her novels on her Facebook page (Author Marie Wells Coutu), at her website (MarieWellsCoutu.com), or follow her on Twitter (@mwcoutu) or on Amazon.com.

Marie is a regular contributor to Seriously WriteFor more posts by Marie, click here.