Writing for the iPhone and iPod

You might have read last week how Amazon.com just released a program for reading electronic books on Apple’s iPhone. Amazon now can sell their digital books to devices beyond its Kindle e-book reader.

The Amazon executive puts it this way: “There are times when you’re going to be in a place where you happen to have your iPhone but not your Kindle. If I get stuck in line at the grocery store,” Ian Freed said, “I can pick up where I was reading with my iPhone.” This amazing program keeps track of where you were reading in the book, whether it was a Kindle or an iPhone.

Amazon’s software can be downloaded (free) for iPhone and also iPod Touch users to read books purchased on the Web or through their dedicated Kindle device.

What does that mean to the writer? Do any of us care whether our books are read in hardbacks or on the iPhone? Or standing in line at the grocery store?

Yes, we do. All of these digital devices and e-books mean that the way we write our books, tell our stories, need to change to accommodate the new digital technology.

Look at the way the narrative has changes through the ages. Mankind has always loved stories, and they always will, but the delivery system, so to speak, has changed.

First, stories were sung around the fire, and told in verse, then with the printing press, stories became books. Charles Dickens, for one, wrote his novels as weekly serials that appeared in popular London magazines. These stories were read out loud by the Lord of the manor to the household staff (who couldn’t read) as they eagerly clustered around the kitchen table and waited for the next installment.

With their stories being “listened to” the writer had a different approach to how he told his tale. Go back and read the opening paragraph of Middlemarch by Eliot or Charles Dickens and see how they waxed away on the page. You won’t find such leisure and luxury of language being published by any commercial publisher. Okay, maybe Knoft.

A few years back, the successful novelist, Richard Price said writers have to seize the reader’s attention in the first paragraph. The novelist has to reach out and grab the reader by the throat.

Our audience today has been schooled by television where no scene seems to last longer than 20 seconds. With the reader having one hand, metaphorally speaking, on the remote, a writer needs to use all his bag of tricks. Keep it moving! Write faster. Be funnier. Don’t stray from away from the spine of your story. Remember your reader has a lot of electronic devices beckoning him away from what you have to say.

The iPhone application works best for 20 to 30 minutes given the battery life and eye strain. As a writer if you haven’t connected with the reader by then, well, forget about it.

Most importantly, in my view, is that these devices mean that ‘e-books’ will be read while the reader (that’s us!) are on the go, on the train, on the bus, between meetings and riding up and down on elevators, in and out of classroom, wherever.

Today’s audience “thinking” that they doesn’t have the time, tolerance or taste for long-winded prose. It like Sarg Shriver’s idea for the length of time someone should stay at the Peace Corps, “In, Up and Out!”

But those of you who love to curl up with a thick book, don’t despair. There will still be hardbacks and libraries, but the cost for these novels and memories and non-fiction tones will increase as the price of paper doubles and few and few ‘units,’ i.e., copies are printed.

But the truth of the matter really is that we all want fast type as well as fast food.

The next time you sit down and try to write lovely prose and think readers will savor every one of your wise words and lovely thoughts. Remember how Tony Soprano famously said, “Furgetaboutit.”

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