September 11, 2012

10 Things E-Books Should Borrow From Television

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What is the issue?
Last year, e-books surpassed hardcover and paperback books in sales. Clearly they are here to stay. Readership, however, pales in comparison with TV viewership. Has the abundance of quality television supplanted our desire to read novels? Maybe, but not if this writer can help it. Because of their unique electronic format, e-books can borrow from what makes great TV so watchable. Here are ten possible initiatives.

1. Immediately after loading, a resonant voice would say, “Previously on [Title of E-Book]…” and recap all the major plot points you’ve read thus far. This would be especially helpful if you’ve put the thing down for a while. Get whoever said, “Previously on LOST,” to do all of them. Man, that guy’s timbre was like 82% cacao chocolate pouring into my ears.

2. No one has ever bought an e-book because of the cover. So replace them with title sequences, preferably done by the same team behind the Boardwalk Empire intro. It’s impossible to grow tired of that two-minute masterpiece.

3. Mad Men and Downton Abbey are simply expensive-looking soap operas. Why don’t writers give us a “high production values” version of their e-books? This edition would have the same plot and characters, but the settings, costumes and props would be described in super vivid detail. If the original writer doesn’t have the chops, freelance it out to someone who does. Nicholson Baker’s interiors, for example, are sleekly produced. I’m pretty good at them too and could be hired for a nominal rate.

4. Time to get Dickensian again and serialize! Chapters of e-books should be doled out weekly, like episodes. This would be a game changer in fiction. Cliffhangers would be cool again. Vamoose to the boring, slant, emotionally distant section endings readers have endured for so long. Put it this way: when was the last time you reached the end of a chapter and exclaimed, “Oh, fuck!” out loud? When was the last time you said that after an episode of Breaking Bad? See?

5. Not so much a technological advance than a bit of story advice: notice how many TV shows are concerned with the drugs a character sells “on the side.” He’s a chemistry teacher, but sells meth “on the side.” She’s a suburban mom, but sells weed “on the side.” He’s the treasurer of Atlantic City, but bootlegs liquor “on the side.” Writers, let’s beat television to the next “on the side” drug. Magic mushrooms, ecstasy, heroin, nitrous oxide, and those new bath salts all seem viable. Heshe is a hermaphrodite double agent, but sells anabolic steroids on the side. How’s that for a hook?

6. The latest Kindle has built-in speakers. So do iPads and Nooks. Why, then, are e-books so quiet?

7. Encourage water-cooler conversation with a guide that equates the characters in the e-book with today’s top TV actors. (Perhaps this loads after the audio recap, so readers can’t miss it.) Since hardly anyone remembers the names of characters in both fiction and on TV, display headshots on the screen with colloquial captions like, “This dude is a lot like that main biker guy in Sons of Anarchy.” Again, the point of this is to tip the social balance at the office, the place where we feel “guilted” and “pressured” into spending hours and hours watching TV shows because talking about books gets blank stares always. I’m not completely sure this headshot thing will work. It’s just a suggestion. But it’s not like we’d be wasting paper, so at least there’s that.

8. Shows, even great shows, get canceled by the networks. We should be able to cancel books as well. If readers stop being interested by chapter six, there’s little reason for the writer to keep slogging away. Who knows, maybe a group of loyal fans would be able to save a canceled book, just like supporters of Community, Jericho, the original Star Trek, and Designing Women did for those shows. It’s really charming when that happens. The threat of cancellation would give us an irrefutable and ongoing vetting system for e-books. It would be a time-saver for authors as well.

9. TV recaps have emerged as a vibrant form of cultural analysis. They’re like book reviews but less boring. Fortunately, based on my Dickensian model, book reviews would be moot until the entire text is finished. Chapter recaps would take up the critical reins. I’m thinking these would appear at the end of the chapter (maybe before the headshots?). Comments would be open and encouraged. Why should an author get the last word? Everyone has a voice.

10. When powered down, the guy from LOST comes on and teases “scenes from the next chapter of [Title of E-Book]…” This means a lot rides on the author to make it sound interesting. Without great writing, none of these innovations will truly work. TC mark

image – Breaking Bad

Marco Kaye

Marco Kaye’s writing has appeared on McSweeney’s, The Rumpus, and The Morning News. He is currently attending the …

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