Writing for the YouTube Generation

The attention span of our YouTube Generation – 30 seconds or less.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

In today’s world of mass media consumption, how do I make my writing stand out?
—Nelly Bridget, Waltham, Pa. 

If you plan to get your reader for the next thirty minutes, get them in the first thirty seconds.

Why?

You’re dealing with internetizens that, on average, don’t watch a YouTube video for longer than 30 seconds. People watch slow, and they read slower.

What’s catching them and keeping them?

Short paragraphs.

Enticing lead-ins — “Advanced healing and regenerative procedures offered to disabled veterans. The cost? Mandatory reenlistment, first in line for combat.”

Narrow questions — “Who consumes the most science fiction today?”

Distilled answers — “The one reason you can’t write a science fiction novel anymore.”

Unresolved solutions —

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

Metaphorically Speaking…

Ever metaphor you didn’t like? Wait, no – but yes, maybe I did.

(That was lame.)

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

What make a good metaphor, cultural or otherwise?

—Jaime Latcheson, Franklin, Pa.

Whoa. People don’t ask such questions these days. Most just assume that can write because they can string a sentence together. Bravo.

This could make for a whole series, but I’ll pass.

Extended metaphor

This is where you “come out and say it” by not saying it, a la Moby-Dick in Moby-Dick (an extended metaphor about, the universe or something) or the Mississippi River in [anything by Mark Twain]. Like a symbol, it’s presence pervades, backdropping the story with underlying, unspoken meaning.

So make it big, but not obvious. A mural explaining the character’s history? A wall of hieroglyphics? No.

Apprehension

Metaphor is both won and lost on its audience. Good luck if you’re plying your trade in science fiction and fantasy, because only you will get the references if you’re writing about “her eyes were bluish, time-refractive orbs that shone with the steadfastness of a pulse controller,” or “Charl’s reign was a fire-coated, scorpion-tailed Wyrxshith raining down spite and misery upon the peasants.”

Make it recognizable, unless your readers are you. 

Getting too fancy

Let’s take this example (from Wikipedia, no less): “The man’s arm exploded with pain, spiderwebs of fire crawling up and down its length as the tire of a passing car crushed it.

Exploded with pain? I get that.

Spiderwebs of fire? Huh? You lost me. I don’t care if you’re aiming for shape. Even if you’re able to get a spiderweb to burn for longer than a second, I’ll be damned if you get it to crawl.

Getting creative

“Her face radiated, a rising sun of happiness working her way through her dainty features.”

“He stared ice cold into the obsidian rock of night.”

Oh. My. God. I have never before seen happiness compared to sunrise, nor cold compared to staring before! You must be a genius, an unparalleled craftsman among writers. I would never have thought to join such images. Amazing.

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).

Time Travel: DOs and DON’Ts

Travel writing? Why, yes, I’m fond of the sort. Evocative, painterly, introspective, resplendent. Taking my couch-planted duff off to places I’m not spending money to travel.

Oh, you’re talking time travel? Get in line.

That’s why we’re Writing All Wrong.

Greetings Curator of Blog [designation Writing All Wrong]:

I am Citizen #306765899. You may list me as “Brent Staples.” I inquire after the state of time travel in the writings of YEAR 2012. Thank you.

—”Brent Staples,” City NA9083

Hey 306765899, perhaps I should be the one asking you about how things “are cracking” in 2086 or whenever. Is redheadedness a crime where you live? I do worry about that.

I’m going to forgo opinions and instead offer sorely-needed dos and don’ts for this round of time travel.

DON’T reinvent the wheel.

Science has proven that every writer has given at least one consideration to writing time travel fiction. And many have. You’re following in the sunken footsteps of many who’ve done this before: Wells’s The Time Machine, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and God’s The Bible. Don’t shoot for a better wheel. Just make a good one.

DO your research.

If you’re sending characters back in time, then you’d better give a proper picture of what it was like back in the day. I’m not falling for a wooden-toothed Washington or a dragon-less court of King Canute. Same goes for future travels. It’s not guesswork: find future editions of Popular Science or postdated tech blogs that cover the science of your target era.

DON’T delve too deep into how time travel works.

If you’re not strapping on the suspenders of disbelief, then you’re in the wrong business. It’s nice to have some working knowledge of the intricacies, sure, but I’m not reading your book to find out how the heck I can warp back to 2nd grade on my own and duck when that stupidface kid punched me. Unless you’re writing a fictional textbook. That’s an idea.

DO exaggerate.

“But you said—” I know what I said, but if I wanted a history book, I’d read that. Get the facts right (Abe Lincoln was the 16th President, Hitler was a Nazi) before you take the necessary liberties (Abe Lincoln whooped his debate opponents in fencing, Hitler had plans for a Jew-seeking missile [soon thwarted].)

DON’T go gimmick.

Time travel is a common fascination, but an uncommon art. Before you sit down to write time traveling fiction, make sure that this is the best possible idea you have. Avoid using time travel as a novelty. It’s like a rocket. Pretty nift in and of itself, but not when you’re buckling it to the roof of a car. I know you want to “drive faster,” but there’s a better way of going about it.

DO write a good story, no matter what.

Great fiction wins. When your book’s pages meet the fire, burned in punitive pyres of creative purgation, may its mourners not say “This was a good time travel story,but “This was a good story.”

Writing All Wrong can be reached via email (WritingAllWrong@me.com) and followed on Twitter (@WritingAllWrong).