Friday, November 29, 2013

Delayed gratification


Michael W. Davis

Time to time I research scientific based information. I know, weird. Guess it’s the tech weenie screaming at my core. Recently I came across a behavioral based study dealing with the ability of people to endure delayed gratification. They conducted an experiment with four year old children where they placed a marshmallow in front of them with the instructions they could eat it now or wait 15 minutes and get two. The results were, as you’d expect, that most kids didn’t make it. In fact roughly 70% could not wait and devoured the morsel before the larger reward.

When you watch the video, the kids endured hell! Some sniffed, licked, pulled out the inside, paced around the room, buried their eyes so they didn’t have to look, truly amazingly. What struck me most was when they examined the kids associated with the study later in life. Those capable of delaying gratification were all successful, while most of those that couldn’t wait had problems. I won’t go into the social and political ramifications of the results, rather I’ll relate it to the writing/reading experience.

You see, many in adulthood suffer from this same dilemma – take a “little” now at the expense of enjoying “more” latter. Thing is, for many genres isn’t the reader experience all about the journey to the finality at the end rather than early gratification? For example, in a mystery or suspense or political thriller don’t we like to solve the puzzle, rearrange the pieces along the trip and see if we’re right at the end?  I’ve written a dozen full length novels, all with elements of intrigue. In every case I’ve received top and five star reviews, yet for those same stories I’ve had readers complain they didn’t like waiting till the last chapter to discover the OMG affect.

Once even collaborated with another author where our main obstacle was where to place the sex scheme. They wanted it in the front while I believed it should be near the end as a grand event after the H/H had time to do the dance of M/F relationships first, at least enough for the fruit to ripen a little. Point is, to maximize reader pleasure in the story, where should we provide the gratification event? If people need it up front, why wait until the end? I guess it’s possible in some genres for earlier vs later release of reader pleasure, but personally, I can’t relate to that style. I need to work out the enigma for myself. I want to have the guy and girl spend a ton of time evolving their minds, hearts and spirits as one, merging together, not as a bang bang experience.

Now, you may be asking yourself, “What caused the big guy to come up with this post?” Well, like most articles we share, this was based on a real world event. I had just received two terrible 5 star reviews on one of my novels from review websites when a week later it was followed by a 3 star commenting they didn’t like having to wait to solve the puzzle, they preferred immediate gratification. Bottom line is we can’t fit everyone’s needs, nor should we try. I suppose we have to write the way we like to read and accept we’ll never please all readers. For those that would like to sample the marshmallow experiment via video, here’s the link:

Be warned, you may rip a stitch laughing. The kids exhibit some hilarious behavior in dealing with their inability to delay gratification.



Julie Eberhart Painter said...

I'm with you on having something to look forward to in literature and life.

Saw this study on TV when the test first aired. Although I agree with the principle, there are variables that skew the test.

Big Mike said...

Still conducted with my grand daughter and she was able to hold off.


Liz Fountain said...

The rhythm of building tension and providing relief is critical to any story. I think of it like music: if the main crescendo came at the beginning, or if the piece just repeats similar sounds, it can be less compelling to keep listening. Thanks, BM!