|Author Lee Goldberg|
He's also written something like 30 novels including the Diagnosis: Murder series, the Monk series, the Fox & O'Hare series that he writes with Janet Evanovich, and many others. The man is a writing dynamo.
The comment Goldberg made that struck me was when he said that "There is more story in a single TV episode today than there was in an entire season of a show back in the seventies."
For those of us in the story-telling business (especially those of us who were around in the '70s), Goldberg's statement is startling. It sums up what has happened in commercial storytelling. People want more story. Much more story.
Is this because we've all been so impacted by the profusion of inputs that only a fast-moving story will keep our attention? Probably. (I remember well the days when there were just three networks on TV, and everybody watched the same news at night - Walter Cronkite.)
Despite this new sound-bite world where a slow character-focused story has a hard time gaining attention, it's also likely that people are simply hard-wired to gravitate toward more story. We love a story that gives us many twists and turns. More of that is more exciting.
Two recent experiences made this real for me.
Back in the day, I devoured each Robert Ludlum novel as they came out. I recently reread his Bourne Identity. It was originally published in 1980. Rereading it 36 years later, it seemed rich and dense and fabulously plotted... And SLOW.
Yikes, what a terrible thing to think about a book I originally thought was fast and filled with action!
Another example: Not long ago, my wife and I rented the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The film stars Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Katherine Ross. It was a smash hit when it came out in 1969, the kind of film that many people saw multiple times for the excitement generated by a fast-moving plot and charismatic, beautiful movie stars.
On seeing it again 45 years later we still found it wonderful... But SLOW.
Lee Goldberg is dead on with his comment.
What exactly is the "story" he refers to? If current shows have more story than an entire season of shows in the '70s, what does that really mean?
I don't think the answer is particularly clear. But the best definition of "story" is "what happens." This mostly means plot. Yes, character growth and transformation is something that "happens." And those character qualities haven't changed. It's the plot part of stories that have shifted into high gear.
So, while we still need to have compelling characters who draw you into their trouble, we more than ever need stuff to happen.
Of course, there will always be readers who want "literary" fiction, stories that delve into complex characters, stories where the major action is when characters make internal discoveries and conflict is quiet, no car chases desired.
But commercial fiction has always had more action and twists and turns. This characteristic goes Way back. Just read Shakespeare. The difference today is that the action and twists and turns have to come at a much faster pace to keep readers happy.
This isn't as easy to do as it is to state. Many writers struggle with plot, sometimes complaining that they have a hard time simply plotting their way out of a paper bag.
Years ago I thought plot was the easier part of the plot-vs-character dichotomy. Now I think it's the harder part. But from now on, I'm going to keep Lee Goldberg's words in my head as I write.