Reading: I’ve been experimenting with audio books lately. I listened to the audio book of The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Excellent stuff. A toddler escapes a killer and is adopted by ghosts in a graveyard. I wish I could make characters that draw readers in as much as the ones in this book do. I’m currently listening to The Chase, by Clive Cussler. It’s not bad so far. A detective agency is trying to track down a clever and ruthless bank robber who roams the west in 1906, killing all potential witnesses. The chase feeds into the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Not bad so far, though I noticed a few places where I wanted to get out my editing pen.
The downside of audio books is that they take so much longer to listen to than it normally takes me to read a book, probably five or ten times as long.
TV: Not too much to report. I did binge-watch the Netflix original Jessica Jones. It’s worth watching. David Tennant of Dr. Who fame is the arch villain and does a very believable, even chilling job of it. Other than that, I’ve been DVRing the new SyFy series The Expanse. My verdict so far: The sets and special effects are stunning–amazing stuff. A lot of zero gravity stuff that looks very realistic, at least to my untrained eye. The plot and writing I’m not as enthusiastic about, at least not yet. The plot involves enough players and motivations that it took a good hunk of the season to establish all of them, plus they haven’t spent enough time on any one character for me to be invested in them much. Add to that: they have killed off several characters I was staring to like. Oh well. I’ll stick with it to marvel at the sets and special effects, at least for a little while. Maybe the plots will all make sense as I get further into the show. Note to authors/script writers: Yes, it’s good to give readers/watchers a feeling that characters they like are in real danger, but kill off too many characters that you’ve made your audience like and people will become afraid to identify with them.
One issue with TV watching: My wife discovered Hallmark Channel, which runs “Cozy” mysteries almost around the clock, most of them from decades ago. We’ve been watching a steady diet of Diagnosis Murder, with Dick Van Dyke and his son, along with Murder She Wrote. Hallmark Channel has also produced several little clusters of original made for TV movies playing off the Diagnosis Murder and Murder She Wrote formulas. “Murder She Baked”, “The Flower Shop Mysteries” and a series surrounding an amateur detective who runs a thrift shop comes to mind, along with one where the heroine/amateur detective runs a used bookstore. They also did a few movies starring most of the cast of Diagnosis Murder, though they are playing slightly different characters.
All these movies are slow-moving by today’s standards, with very few car chases, gunfights or fist fights, but they work pretty well. Everybody has an ideal pace for what they watch on TV. That pace has gradually increased over the years, with programs forced to cram more and more into their time-slot to keep people from flipping to something else. That frantic pace too often covers for the fact that the plots and dialog are weak to nonexistent–subbing chases and gun battles for more subtle, intelligent story-telling. The Hallmark stuff is just barely fast enough to keep me engaged, but it is over the threshold.
That speeding up applies to books too. Authors are competing against every other use of their potential audience’s attention span–from what is currently on TV to NetFlix, Amazon Prime, On Demand, what’s on the DVR and video games to surfing the net, texting our friends and messing around on Facebook. We only have so many non-work, non-sleep hours in a day and very little of that time is focused solely on one primary task. Authors and screenwriters have to deal with the reality that their audience is consuming their content while texting back and forth with their friends or checking e-mail or Facebook. If a plot depends on some subtle point, you can’t count on your audience picking up on it, because they may have been sending a text and only half watching/reading when you dropped it on them. So we write scripts or books for a distracted audience, most of which is only half-watching. That’s not the audience I would like to write for, but it’s reality.