Shawn Burgess Author

Writing in the Age of Diminished Attention Spans

Think an average reader has less patience than they did in 1850, 1950, or 1990? I’d argue the answer is an overwhelming yes and that that delta grows wider by the day. We live in an age of sound bites and video clips, a scintillating, all-you-can-eat buffet of distraction at the fingertips of our readers. Multitasking reigns supreme, doing dishes while listening to a podcast, folding laundry while watching television. We encounter more stimuli in one day than someone a hundred years ago may have encountered in a month. So, how can we tear through this wall of brain bombardment and get someone to give their undivided attention to a book, a format that by its very essence demands shutting out all other distractions?


What I mean by this is that you need to set the hook—and set it deeply—at the onset of the story. Most readers are not going to wait twenty pages for this to develop. Remember, you’re not just competing with other books, but also other mediums. Give the reader plenty of reason to keep turning pages and not make that dreaded reach for their phone or remote on the bedside table.


While there may be nothing new under the sun, there are infinite combinations of stories and characters. Strive to be as original as possible. No one wants to read the shadow twin of a story that already exists.

While storytelling is formulaic to some extent, I would argue that the most successful authors create stories that become memorable for their unique differences versus any commonalities they share with other similar, preceding works. Think different angles and fresh spins.


The days of page after page of long exposition of every minute detail are over. All of these small details are important to build your world and atmosphere, but they can’t be strung together in a mind-numbing thread. They need to be spattered in throughout the manuscript, a sentence here, a paragraph there.

Readers demand that the plot moves. If you’re going to take me to a grocery store with your MC, don’t take me down every aisle while they waffle between choices, unless you’re establishing some important behaviors or characteristics about your MC. Hit the high points, the parts that are vital that I know as a reader and that relate to either the plot or character. The rest can come as succinct summation.

While pacing varies based on genre and the story being told, poor pacing is a sure way to lose your reader in a hurry. The moment they consciously recognize there’s a problem with the pacing is the same moment their mind begins to wander to all the other things that are clamoring for their time and attention.


At its essence, this is as simple as asking, do your readers care about what happens to your characters? They may be rooting for something good or bad to happen to a character, and either of those is good. Reader indifference is the real concern. If they’re not invested in your characters, they’ll lose motivation to keep turning the pages. They’re not going to care what happens in your story if they don’t care what happens to the characters in it.

Certain elements can forge that deep connection between your characters and readers: voice, relatability, crisp dialogue, well-formed characters with personalities distinct from one another, etc. Each of these is important and work together to make your readers ultimately care about the fate of your characters.


The world is changing at an incredibly rapid pace. But what hasn’t changed is people’s desire for a great story that they can connect with. And everything aforementioned is just one person’s humble opinion, mine. So that being said, it’s your story, and the person that knows how to best write your story is you. But these might be some helpful things to consider when you are crafting and revising it.