Fictitious Weblog Name

DickensIn a roundabout, flirty kind of way, what I was asking in yesterday’s post was, “What is a weblog?” The question itself is so open-ended and suggests no definitive answers that even those who pose it seem to do so a bit wearily, which explains why I didn’t come out and state it that way. It deserves to be asked though, and I think a reasonable if still evasive way of answering it might be, “What is a book?” The most literal answer might be: it’s a technological vehicle for the delivery of ideas. But the form itself suggests few inherent purposes, uses or opportunities beyond the very basic one of communication, so why should a blog? Both a book and a blog can take just about any form that can be contained within their own rudimentary technical limits.

So if, like a book, weblogs are primarily about communication, then I would say that, for the most part, what we’ve been communicating with weblogs thus far has been along the lines of exposition or proselytizing; dissecting the minutiae of our lives (figuring out how to get more out of our Macs, for instance) or explaining the reasoning behind our opinions (insert the name of any given political blog here). What we haven’t been doing much of is communicating in narrative form. In blogs, we have the means to conscript nearly every net-based innovation — from push-button publishing to dynamic community building to multimedia — into the service of storytelling. That’s powerful and it’s something books can’t do, nor can film for that matter.

As I stated in some comments at Feed the Book, it’s my opinion that the weblog that manages to wed compelling fiction to the particulars of the blog medium will be a blockbuster, the ‘breakout’ weblog that starts to really stir bloggers’ imaginations. I’m not talking about just a novel that’s released in serialized form, but rather a just-in-time kind of story, told in entries posted a few times a week, with a minimum of editing, and in a style that is incredibly responsive to current events and even reader comments. I know there have been some attempts at this out there already, but they fall short in my opinion because they fail the test of being written well — above all else, it has to be as good as Dickens. Sometimes I flatter myself that maybe I could write that blog novel, but I’m far too deficient a writer for that. I do know, though, that I absolutely, one hundred and ten percent want to be the person who designs that weblog.



  1. I somehow doubt that the blogging audience has the attention span necessary for anything resembling a narrative. Perhaps this statement says more about my cynicism than it does about blogs, but when you consider the length of the average blog post and even the tools people use to digest information (news readers, etc.)–even a medium-length narrative (say, one or two screens worth?) isn’t really relevant to a media culture.

    These are issues important to me personally and to my work. It’s only with a healthy sense of irony that I find myself a Ph.D. candidate in Literature in a culture probably best described as post-literate, or at least heading in that direction.

    (By the way, I don’t think this post is entirely unrelated to your post last week about the album.)

  2. I don’t see why this couldn’t work, and work well. The narrative text of a comic book is effective, and can by quite so, and that text tends to be very brief. Granted: the narrative text of a comic book isn’t the only vehicle of narration found in comic books; but that doesn’t mean that the narrative text extracted from a comic book couldn’t adequately tell the story.

  3. I think Subtraction has a narrative. It’s just that the story is not over yet so it’s hard to see overall arc of the plot. Will Khoi find digital nirvana? Will he keep on designing or will he chuck in the towell? And, most importantly, will Mr. President run in ’08? Why would I keep checking in to Subraction if we didn’t want to see how these plots develop? It’s not just about getting your opinions on products.

    One of the interesting aspects of book-technology is that, from the start, you know what you’re getting yourself in to. You know where you are in a book and how many pages you have to the end. I’m not sure when Subtraction will end, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to check in on the characters and see how things are coming along.

  4. It sounds like you’re thinking of something like Plain Layne, where someone creates a fictional character and writes fictional blog entries which have a kind of story arc but also respond to current events and what the readers are saying.

    Although I have a feeling if the writer had said “THIS IS ALL FICTIONAL” from the outset, it wouldn’t’ve been nearly as popular. What made it compelling is that people thought it was about a real person, with really interesting things happening to them. Which is a much bigger draw than Dickens, these days.

    But anyway, if you design it, I’ll write it.

  5. Narayan: You may be thinking of blog entries that look like passages from a book. For this hypothetical fictional blog, I’m thinking of entries that look and read like your standard blog entries — sometimes short, sometimes long, sometimes illustrated — that related fictional content. In that sense, it would retain the readability and quality of the blogs we read every day. But I grant you this: the whole idea does sound a bit gimmicky, and it may amount to something less than literature and closer to dramedy.

    David: it’s a great point that a book will allow for easily identified frames of reference and the idea that one can be n pages from finishing. I think a blog could do that too, if its premise were, say, to tell the fictional story of being on the campaign trail for the midterm elections (or any other event with a finite timeline).

    Daniel: everything comes back to comic books. I agree that there are some lessons to be learned from that medium with regard to serial publishing. It may just prove the point though that any successful experiment in this area will end up more like a soap opera than a great novel. Still, I stubbornly maintain that it has potential.

  6. This is all very interesting indeed. I remember that misty day when I encountered my virgin blog. And one of the first things that occurred to me was that the form was almost perfectly suited for some sort of serial. How to go about it, though? You’re right, Khoi, in saying that any open-ended narrative will most likely tend towards the soap. Not that that’s necessarily a bad thing, but I don’t think it’s what we’re (or at least I’m) after here.

    So how to go about it? I think that, rather than just starting a narrative and posting at will, a sound course of action would be to sketch out a rough narrative framework and respond to social events within it. I remember a show we had here in Australia called “Going Home” (or Coming Home or something). But the premise was a group of people commuting home each night on the train. It was written and shot on a very tight turnaround, so in each episode, you might have four or five vignettes, some soapy, but some which responded directly to current events. Yet that response operated within a broader narrative direction. I think that’s the way to go here. And I agree that an election trail, or some similarly intense, temporally finite event would be ideal.

  7. I didn’t intend to sound as if I was dismissing this idea entirely–sorry about that. In fact, I think such an idea (however ambiguous at this stage) is very interesting to me, and that’s really the point I wanted to make.

  8. Khoi, I almost wrote in my first comment that there would be a good chance that this sort of thing might become gimmicky. It’s not unlike other popular serial formats: for the sake of continuity, either of characters or other elements, writers often force plotlines and general development into zones smacking of artificial safety or constancy. Also, this sort of thing might be equally likely to devolve to soapiness, but this concerns me less because—let’s be honest—humans are prone to soapiness far more than we’d like to admit. In that context, it might be more realistic to include soap than to exclude it.

  9. The method of writing a posting in a narrative format is one I encourage myself to perform every time I write. I even encourage my wife to write her offline diary in the same manner!
    [Instead of simple statements like “I hate him”, I encourage her to write the story of why she hates me, and how she attempts to resolve it.]
    By using this method, younger writers learn more about themselves and about their true emotions, also encourages them to learn bigger words than ‘hate’ or ‘them’. It also teaches those of us who try so hard to get the point across if our message is appropriately worded, well-constructed, and less “soapy”. Unless that is your style. Soap seems to sell.
    I remember that SBS Series, “Going Home” [still not sure if that is right!]. It worked because we could all associate with the definate characters – they all were able to convince each other, and the audience at the other end of the tele’, that they really were the character they presented, whether it be a little old house wife or a neurotice business executive.
    It also helps if the young bloggers learn to end a post, not just tell a quick narrative. A lot of posts out there go in no particular direction, and end nowhere. Almost like this comment…

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