Lesson 11: Managing the Reader’s Attention

Writing Exercise

We have talked about the ways writers use multiple “registers” to create various effects in their stories. I’m defining registers in terms of threads of attention.

In the “defusing a time bomb” trope, the writer ratchets up suspense and drama by drawing the reader’s attention now to the red wire and the blue wire, now to the ticking timer now to the sweat coming off the bomb defuser’s nose, now to the red wire and the blue wire…

In a much less dramatic scenario, if you’re walking your dog and you stop to talk to your neighbor, one register demanding your attention is the conversation with the neighbor, while at the same time, in another register, the dog is demanding your attention, pulling at the leash, sniffing the neighbor’s dog, barking at squirrels. If you were to write that scene, you would need to account for both of those registers.

Your assignment for this lessonis to write a scene in which you have to switch back and forth between at least two registers. This register-switching might increase suspense, it might create a sense of chaos, it might create humor…. 

You might describe a crowd scene in which a lot of different things going on, or a restaurant in which two people are trying to have a conversation while the people at the next table (or the waiter) are drawing their attention away…there are lots of possibilities.