NVDT #39 – If Not Now, When?

The Prompt – How soon is too soon to include an actual event in a fictional story

The average attention span is around 8 seconds. Down from 12 in 2000.

Which screws up content-based marketing. I have Addy’s for 29.5 (30 second) commercials. One had 36 cues. Bip Bam Boom. One was a gauzy, dreamy Mother’s Day ad for a chain of jewelry stores. I wonder if anyone ever heard the tag? Why bother with 29.5s? Because TV stations can’t stay alive selling 7-second ads.

That’s what, 4 ads in the space of 1 with some extra fade time? “FORDS! WE GOT ‘EM!” “FURNITURE! COME GET IT!” “FAT GUY PLUMBERS, ON TIME!” “HOT WINGS! CARRYOUT OR DELIVERY!”

Extend that content thought out to writing a new novel (which explains the plethora of plot holes and unexplained Red Herrings lately). My new book, please review – “Zombies. Lots of them. Fear. Chase. Blood and guts. More blood and guts. Screaming. Sex. More fear. Everyone dies. The end.

Our attention spans are so short we’ve blown off Covid 19 as a death sentence that hasn’t gone away, in favor of making sure we can get haircuts. And nachos. And exercise together in sweaty groups in closed rooms.

My answer – Whenever it suits you. Now is fine for whenever whatever happened or is happening.

Which begs the question – At what point or measure of time from an event does pop-culture fiction become historical fiction? A generation? Five years? Twenty years? When everyone who experienced it is dead? When kids weren’t born when it happened?

The old saying, roughly, is ‘wisdom is the distance from an experience to its understanding.’ Some events take longer than others to grasp their full magnitude, but is it a prerequisite that we understand a current event to use it for a tortilla to wrap around our story burrito?

The 7-second rule says “Nah.” You couldn’t write a YA about the Twin Towers because most of them wouldn’t know what the hell you were talking about. And you might offend some terrorists. Maybe YA’s know about Taylor Swift’s boob job or Demi Lovato’s latest overdose. Maybe. Don’t count on it, because some celebutante just tweeted about how she loves her new custom painted high top Converses. What was I saying?

Quick. What happened 7 seconds ago?




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Published by

Phil Huston


17 thoughts on “NVDT #39 – If Not Now, When?”

  1. I wonder if there’s some natural law that plays out here. Some brain-world interface that no matter what that will be our limit to shortening our attention spans. I imagine our early ancestors traipsing through forests and along coastlines always on the lookout. Being instantly aware of motion and the source, watching the critter move and pause, after seven seconds… moving one’s focus back to the path, or brush or water line seems like a reasonable attention time span.
    Given a non-distracting environment, I suspect most humans would eventually re-enable the ability to maintain focus for minutes at a time. Our current world would never allow this. Not without a good ol’ fashion apocalypse against the electrical grid.


    1. I even wonder if Zen, as found in eye-hand work is really Zen. For instance music. The attention span is not still, even if the mind is focused. Mechanic, gardener. Yes, focused. Yes, the “noise” stops but with every action the attention shifts. Do dah do dah. What’d you say?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I see your point. Layers of focus, the bottom most spending perhaps a few hundred milliseconds on a specific feature of the next level up’s broader scope. Which in turn expands the attention, and so on up to where we become aware and can willfully direct our concentrations. Or not.
        It seems that the ability to corral the finest gradient of attention, that level which is constantly bopping about, is the key to extending our actualized attention spans. “Oh, no you don’t. Come back here you evil little shit.”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Attention is like the old comedy bit where, when asked which way “they” went, the answer was crossed arms pointing opposite directions along with “They went thataway.” Thoughts rolling away like spilled marbles.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree, attention spans are getting shorter. My children ask me who I am mid-conversation (if they look up from their screens). And yet, while T.V. series have got shorter (10-12 episodes from 20+), movies have got longer. The Game of Thrones novels are Loooonnng books and people buy into them. I think that, if you can engage and keep it interesting, exciting even, the reader will stay with you. Which isn’t really about the original post but I’d forgotten what that was.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think there’s a market for almost anything. Short and clean or Game of Thrones, depends on the mindset of the escapee. I read one “The Stand” in my life, and several Colin Dexter and Reginald Hill novels which were not so much mysteries as lengthy, involved soap operas written around cops. I think.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. If the attention span is shorter, does that mean more thoughts are “computed” is less time? And what does that mean for making advances in scientific fields?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not sure if more is computed in less time, brain power wise. I doubt seriously the absorption of “next” is developing brain power or imagination or character. It is true that a five year old has been exposed to 10 times more information in their 5 years than an adult got in a lifetime a hundred years ago. But are they doing anything with all that input? Garbage in, garbage out.


    1. Oh jeez, long movies. They go over about an hour and ten and Star getting circular and repeating themselves. There’s this NZ detective show that is 90 minutes and the last thirty are just extensions, one herring too many. Gone with the Wind? Gone with the Snore. Kevin Costner was the king of endless, time killing long shots.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Swift had a boob job? I’m so behind. I’m missing about 10 years of current, now past, events from when I had small kids at home.


      1. I admit to having much longer, if far less hair than I’ve had since the 80s. I used to read those in waiting rooms of all kinds from doctor’s offices to the tire store. The excuse is that they’re on the tables and I can’t read Woman’s Day or Modern Mom.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Phil, I did remember what you started out with and I remember looking again
    at the cute photo and wondering if all little boys try and electrocute themselves
    In their curiosity. ( lost your attention) 😊.

    It is sad if literature should be written in the way of screaming ads. How do you make anyone be there, in your scene. Know your characters. Feel the taste of that particular drink ….


    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think to escape the crowd and the usual trite sound bites, to reel them in to the table and sit with our characters we need few, but perfect, words. One excellent, logical sentence at a time flowing into the next. I think well envisioned leads to well told. If we can taste it, we can communicate it.

      Liked by 1 person

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