17 February, 2011

Can African writing be competitive in today's world?

The art of creative writing keeps evolving and the rules keep changing. Things that were done a few years ago aren't acceptable anymore. Think of it like the movies. Ten years ago, movies took time to build up and reel you in; today viewers have so many options that movie makers have to grab the audiences' attention within the first five minutes of the movie.

So it is with writing. There are still readers who appreciate the written word to the point that they'd read simply for the enjoyment of the literary word. For the most part, though, many readers want a story that will snag their attention from line one. With the number of writers (aspiring or otherwise) at an all-time high*, a writer needs to be able to grab a reader's attention quickly--and most importantly hold that attention for the duration of the story.

Unfortunately, I think this puts African writers at a bit of a disadvantage. Our storytelling seems to be the type that builds up. Many of us will remember a period growing up, when we made time for storytelling; so we were required to be patient and allow the narrator to reel us in. In fact, in the most traditional sense, there's usually an ambiance--people gathered by a bonfire as a wizened elder impart life's lessons through folktales.

So how do we compete in today's world? More importantly, how do we ensure we don't lose our African-ness in the process?

I can think of a couple of things: knowing the basic rules, and learning/applying the new trends. That way the African-ness we may be so afraid of losing will draw in both African readers who want to read more stories they can relate with, and non-African readers who will see our stories are a cultural adventure.

Any thoughts, any one?



  1. You have a good point. As a reader i have so many books in my TBR list that if a book doesn't grab me within the first chapter i drop it and move on. Time is so precious.
    As a writer i try to hook readers in the first chapter and hopefully maintain the momentum so they keep reading. It is so important.

  2. It’s been my policy for sometime now to complete a story once I’ve started reading it. Maybe it's because I'm in the business, but whenever I'm reading story that seems slow, I tell myself the writer must have had a reason to start the way s/he chose to do it, so it is my policy to give every story a chance. At the very least I must read the first chapter. Some books are easier to read than others, I must admit.

    There's a story by a very popular romance author, that I started a couple of months back and still struggling to complete (shhh)

    As a reader I do like stories that reel you in as long as it’s not too slow, but as a writer I also make it a point to start with a bit of a hook. In fact, I try to start every chapter with a bit of a hook.

    An editor also recommended ending chapters with a hook.