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The Media

Narrative and Weblogs: the Blognovel 202

Diego writes "A few days ago I started Plan B -- a blognovel as a way of exploring the narrative constraints created by a weblog, and whether it is at all possible to use it as an artistic medium to produce interesting work. It also presents some interesting challenges on the UI side: what kind of navigation to use besides the basic calendar navigation of the blog? How could it be made obvious that it's not intended to replace print or even ebooks? I thought the slashdot community would have a lot useful things to say about all of these issues. I've also put together a short intro page and a FAQ that I think will be useful to start the conversation: What is Plan B? and the Plan B FAQ."
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Narrative and Weblogs: the Blognovel

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  • Way back in the early days of my LiveJournal, I was working on a fantasy story called 'Chronicles of the Sunsword'.

    I dropped a paragraph or two in each day.

    Unfortunately, it didn't really work out for me.

    Still, it's nice to see this as happening, and I hope he sticks with it longer than I did.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday July 31, 2002 @04:16PM (#3988303)
    as a way of exploring... whether it is at all possible to use [a weblog] as an artistic medium to produce interesting work.

    No.
    • Oh come on.

      It's not just 'No.'

      It's 'Fuck no' or 'Hell no', depending on your bend.
    • How about the blog as a political medium to influence opinion. Matt Drudge was able to parlay his blog into a Fox news talk show (until folk discovered he is really a clueless dweeb).

      For a completely unbiased, bipartisan view of US politics I always go to the Bush Impeachment Countdown [salon.com].

      However I do protest at the posters transparent attempt to increase their position in the rankings page [salon.com] by using the sladshdot effect.

      • The blog stuff does get news out that the mainstream media does not print. So a reference in a blog on MSNBC to an article in a small paper that reveals that Harken oil was using an offshore tax haven in the caymans to cheat the IRS while Bush was a director gets picked up by the Bush Impeachment Coundown [salon.com], and I am now posting it here - all in less time than it takes Chris Mathews to give a fawning interview to Ann Coulter.
  • Seems to me that people start diaries/journals/blogs/what have you and then realize they've wasted their time, so they try to make money/fame/something useful out of it.
    • Re:Seems to me... (Score:2, Insightful)

      by dev0n ( 313063 )
      i beg to differ. i have had a blog since the beginning of 2000, and i have never felt as if i was wasting my time. blogs are great ways to experiment with writing, to get out your feelings, and to generate discussion amongst your peer group.
      • You misunderstood me. I wasnt saying that it was a waste of time. I was saying that once certain people realize they've wasted their time, they try to make it into something useful.
    • they try to make money/fame/something useful out of it.

      Um, I think you've managed to state the goals of everthing any person has ever done. So maybe you should quit your job because it only gets you money. Don't post on slashdot so you have no chance of fame (yeah right), and go shoot yourself since you're probably trying to do something useful with your life.
    • It's more of a waste of time to read a blog than it is to write one.
  • The limits of the narrative style are many, especially because every novel would have to start with "If I were a $OBJECT, I'd be..."
  • by OneStepFromElysium ( 549625 ) on Wednesday July 31, 2002 @04:20PM (#3988331) Homepage
    Memento [imdb.com] used a storytelling style very similar to what you are describing. In fact, it's easy to see that story being done in a blog style.
    • Except that Memento relied on the backwards flow to tell the story. If you watched each scene in the right order, it would have been a pretty dumb movie. He's proposing more of a "random-access" story.
    • I've sold fiction and non-fiction works. The effort in getting something published that is also suitable for human consumption is much larger than most people realize. Anyone can publish on the web, but, as agents and editors often point out, who's doing the quality control? I don't think that weblogs are suitable for writing or reading compelling fiction. Good writing is hard, and demands endless revisions, rewritings, and editing. Any professional writer knows this. Consumers seldom see the first draft of an article or story.

      OneStepFromElysium indicated that Memento might be a good work produced as a blog. I beg to disagree; the novella and the movie are very carefully crafted. I believe a novel COULD BE MADE TO LOOK like a weblog, much like Bram Stoker's Dracula is made to look like a collection of journals, telegrams, and newspaper clippings. The nature of real weblogs may hinder character development, plot development, and narrative.

      For comparison, check the original Memento story out, published by Esquire Magazine. [esquire.com] Could something like this have been written as a weblog? Hm... something to think about...

      Cheers!

      E
    • Dude, you should really check your links before posting.

      He's naughty, He's nice, and He's coming to save Christmas.

  • Purpose of a novel (Score:3, Insightful)

    by moebius_4d ( 26199 ) on Wednesday July 31, 2002 @04:21PM (#3988341) Journal
    I've tried my hand at a novel before, as my half-shelf of writing books will attest. It seems to me that the whole reason for a novel, or fiction generally, is to communicate an emotional state to the reader. Even SF boils down to this - otherwise, why have characters, why not just write speculative monographs about technology? It's about exploring the human condition and sharing the results.

    So what I'd like to understand is how you think this medium and method will enhance that purpose. Why should access to unfinished work, or continuous feedback from reader of that work, help an author convey what must initally be an internal state or vision?

    It's an interesting topic more generally, since by and large (I except computer games) computers haven't really added any new media at all. And while Doom may have scared the shit out me at times, it's clear that the richness of the experience was far behind Shakespeare, or even Lovecraft.

    Thanks for starting what could potentially be an interesting discussion.
    • by Triv ( 181010 )
      You wanted an interesting discussion, so here goes.

      I've tried my hand at a novel before, as my half-shelf of writing books will attest.

      Yep, I've got one of those too (just to establish my pseudo-credentials).

      It seems to me that the whole reason for a novel, or fiction generally, is to communicate an emotional state to the reader.

      Partially. I mean ok, if you graph from far enough away that's true, but that creation of emotional response really needs to be broken down some. Fiction can impart a lesson or moral, can create a sense of location (I'm currently reading Anthony Powell's "Dance to the music of Time" series. 3,000 pages - all you get is an incredibly detailed picture of what inter-bellum Brittan was like. Take that away and you've got a soap-opera) It can craft basic emotion, but honestly if that's all there is, I see no point. Romance novels do that quite well.

      To me, fiction is about style. It's not what you say really, it's how it's said. Donald Antrim, Harold Pinter, even Douglas Adams do wonderful things to language. Antrim's a wonderful liar - he shatters his novels in the last 20 pages and you never see it coming. Pinter relies on what's not said, lets you draw your own conclusions - he thinks out his plots and writes around them. Adams was an amazing describer - "His arm muscles moved around each other like volkswagons parking." He made images jump to your imagination. His radio background did that - he had to plant a vivid picture, otherwise Hitch-hiker wouldn't exist.

      Continuous feedback, in my mind, should be avoided. You finish the damn thing and then show it to someone. Asking for input chapter by chapter could be confusing. But then again, we're not really talking about a novel here.

      Honestly, I'd say go for it and see what happens. If it sucks you'll know what to do differently next time around.

      Best of luck.

      Triv
    • It seems to me that the whole reason for a novel, or fiction generally, is to communicate an emotional state to the reader
      You hear this kind of thing batted about a lot between those who think a lot about writing.
      The whole reason for a novel, or fiction generally is to entertain. That's why people shell out the dough -- to escape in one way or another. For some people careful vicarious introspection is entertaining. For others, Penthouse Forum is the height of entertainment. The reason to write a work of fiction is money.


  • Should be spelled bl0g to identify the speaker as a dork

  • Is Katz writing under a pseudonym these days?
  • by Oculus Habent ( 562837 ) <oculus...habent@@@gmail...com> on Wednesday July 31, 2002 @04:22PM (#3988350) Journal
    As a navigation system, I think the slashdot-style topics would make a great addition. This way you can progressively follow the entire log, or you can pick a topic that the author has made, and follow a sequence of topical notes and opinions.
    • That sounds like a good idea! The question now is whether the topics should relate to plotlines or to the ideas behind them... something definitely interesting though.
    • Most blog apps have this already. b2 [cafelog.com] which is my favorite [nuvc.org] certainly employs this feature, so you can filter by category. I'm not sure what this would add to a novel's narrative format, though. If it's not a linear progression through a story, it shouldn't be called a novel, although it may be no less meaningful a form of art. A blog can be a linear progression, but not if you filter out part of it by categorizing it.
  • I don't get it. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Telastyn ( 206146 ) on Wednesday July 31, 2002 @04:23PM (#3988353)
    Why are people facinated with blogs? They simply offer a more limited subset of the creativity allowed by vanilla html, in exchange for added ease of use and "structure". Why not just use web pages, or better yet flash, or another multimedia form to create unique arts?
    • Why are people facinated with blogs?

      because they're usually comprised of snippets of real people's experiences and thoughts. unedited and raw. there are a ton of bad blogs, sure.. but there are at least an equal amount of great ones.

      Why not just use web pages, or better yet flash, or another multimedia form to create unique arts?

      i personally believe that each person's blog is unique. my thoughts are certainly different from other people's thoughts, and i take great pride in the fact that i have maintained a blog for over 2 and a half years now.

      sure, some of it is boring. and yeah, most of slashdot's readers would hate it. (i make a lot of references to very personal emotional experiences - most men don't "get it"..) but i am still convinced that blogging is an art form.

      just because it's trendy doesn't make it bad.
      • I agree, though I'm just saying that you could do the same thing (much better) by "doing it yourself" so that it takes on a more personalized and/or stylistic touch.

        And they certainly aren't bad. I enjoy reading through blogs, and it's a great way to keep abreast with someone's life. But imo there's far too much attention given to them as though they are a monstrous achievement. Despite their great following and popularity, they aren't exactly new or revolutionary. Hell .plan files have existed longer than the web...

        Furthermore IRC chat is imo more "unedited and raw" as far as people's unchecked thoughts and feelings go. It's a place without retribution, thus allowing only conscience to interviene...

        Though that is another debate...
    • Because he's a writer, not an animator.
    • Re:I don't get it. (Score:2, Interesting)

      by casings ( 257363 )
      I don't get it either. I dislike everything that weblogs stand for. I don't care about other people's daily life. I don't care what happened to somebody on the street. I don't care about what one person finds funny about this waiter at his/her favorite restaurant. These things should be left to his/her self, like a diary.

      The only reason i can see that someone would want to have a log of their daily life, is for an auto-biography, which should be left to someone who has been in the public eye quite a bit, and whos private life has been affected by it. Face it, most everyone that does one of these online journals is just not interesting. I even hate the stupid word 'blog' that people use to describe them. Its just a buzz word that stupid people use to sound important, like 'proactive' and 'paradigm.'

      I'm fired now, aren't I?
      • Translation: Only famous people are important and have anything worthwhile to say.

        That's a wonderful attitude to take towards your fellow man. As if fame has anything to do with intelligence or ability.

        The only difference between a famous writer and one who writes in a blog is that one of them is famous.
        ______________

        • No im saying this as a reality check. I don't like auto biographies. And most famous people don't deserve them. Just the ones who have had a troubled private life as a result of fame or publisity. Average Joe Schlub doesn't need to need to have an auto biography. But Ms Susie Survivor of Some Grave Thing or Some Targeted Human, does deserve it, because these are 'helpful' and interesting readings.

          Anyway, back the whole web jounral thing. As i see it the whole shebang was started by some bored designer trying to have a hobby and a personal site, and now its been blown way out of proportion. Voyeurs and Exhibitionists come to mind. Neither one is really condoned but somehow the public doesn't seem to mind the exhibitionists but really shun the voyeurs. Although they arent all that different (they just disclosure of humanity), some for personal gain others for curiosity.
        • I disagree with you. The underlying purpose of a weblog is to make the writer feel important. No matter what kind of ruse is adopted for a particular weblog, it is designed to pull the wool over the eyes of the reader, the goal being to convince someone else that goon writer x is not a run-of-the-mill...it is an identity issue, a confidence issue. It is incredibly sad that we live in a world where people are not happy with themselves. Weblogs are pitiful attemps at making oneself appear important. No matter what though, this is an empty game that isn't fooling anyone. Soon enough the empty sense of imporance these things provide will ebb; the logs themselves will rot away like the readers who have nothing better to do than to marvel at their own existence and charitable contribution to the filth and waste that is becoming the Internet. Who better than we prideful Americans to adopt such a self-centered, vain mecca to ourselves? Especially when we could be converting this obvious talent and intelligence into something that actually aids mankind instead of distracting it. Let us now bow down to the shrine of Earl, local pin monkey by day, Super Thought Provoker by night. Hooray! Oh, I also think that following the lives of celebrities who earn it through entertainment is also a ridiculouse farse. And I do agree that the only people worth listening to have obtained fame; that's why I read the stories of Hemingway and grasp at the concepts of Einstein, as opposed to the scientific discoveries of Bubba Joe Smith. People with fame earn it because they have something worth giving them notice or mention; they contribute.
      • You forgot "synergy".
      • Face it, most everyone that does one of these online journals is just not interesting. I even hate the stupid word 'blog' that people use to describe them. Its just a buzz word that stupid people use to sound important, like 'proactive' and 'paradigm.'

        SAT Question time:
        1) 'blogs' are to the 2000's as websites were to:
        a) the 1860's
        b) 1975
        c) the late 90's
        d) CoyboyNeal

        Remember the Mad Website Rush of the late 90's? Little Timmy gets his own site. Here's a picture of my dog. Here's a picture of my sister. Look at this animated ninja I swiped off my dork friend Johnny's site. Who the fuck cares?

        Like it or not, blogs are now in vogue. Anyone who's anyone has one (guess I'm not anyone - I haven't updated my slashdot journal since march). It's just another way to make unimportant people feel important.. Not to mention feel like a part of the 'in' crowd.

        The only one I have ever read with any regularity is Alan Cox's diary [linux.org.uk], and that's only cause it was a non-time consuming way to keep up with some of the bleeding-edge kernel stuff without having to get tangled up in the mess that is the linux-kernel list. Even then, it annoys me to read about taking his In laws out for Thai food, for example. Why the hell should I care about his love of Thai food? Yeah, I know "if it annoys you don't read it". Well, I don't any more.

        Shayne

        • Like it or not, blogs are now in vogue. Anyone who's anyone has one (guess I'm not anyone - I haven't updated my slashdot journal since march).

          Huh? "Blogs" were in vogue years ago, and if you think this is some new fangled thing then I'd say that you're a little late to the party.

          It's just another way to make unimportant people feel important....Even then, it annoys me to read about taking his In laws out for Thai food, for example. Why the hell should I care about his love of Thai food? Yeah, I know "if it annoys you don't read it". Well, I don't any more.

          This just blows me away. Exactly as you alluded to yourself (just as you alluded to the fact that you tried your hand at having a journal through the Slashdot system) if you don't like it, then don't god damn read it. The irony of reading your, and other, posts about "unimportant people trying to feel important", or people with "confidence issues", the only people who have a frothing problem with blogs, websites, whatever, are people with grotesque confidence issues and a serious chip on their shoulders. I've seen these people take jabs at Jamie Zawinski, Joel (on Software), etc: It's a sad envy that these people have people who find their writings interesting. Of all the human traits, raw envy has got to rank as one of the most profounding depressing and deplorable.

    • Telastyn writes:
      "Why are people facinated with blogs? They simply offer a more limited subset of the creativity allowed by vanilla html, in exchange for added ease of use and "structure". Why not just use web pages, or better yet flash, or another multimedia form to create unique arts?"

      If I understand this correctly, you're asking why substance can't take a backseat to style?

      It's not a flame, but as best as I can see, that's your gripe -- that more interesting delivery methods exist and should, ipso facto, be used. Suppose all you want to convey is the written word? If so, then is the written word good enough?
      • Certainly, but why limit the form and stylization that your written word may take? Certainly the poster was looking for something that wasn't just a book or ordinary novel, where the written word is by far enough.
    • okay there've been a number of negative opinions about blogs expressed here that I just have to laugh at...

      common complaint: "I'm not interested in anyone else."
      Then why do you read slashdot? it's much like a set of interactive blogs... and yes some blogs are indeed interactive... people link back and forth.

      Also, though they are a public forum for a person's thoughts, they really aren't intended for a huge growth in traffic... they're a place to keep one's thoughts...

      Sure some are for the purpose of artistic expression, but my view of art is that it is mainly for the individual who creates it. Yeah yeah yeah, they're public so others can view it, but most wont... who cares?

      Identity is not such a simple concept that a person is the same in every situation.. we all play roles which are different for different people or places. For me, sometimes I have a hard time keeping track of who I am all the time; by having a blog, I can help myself create some continuity... after all, it's just a journal, but one that I can update from anywhere, as long as I'm near a computer with web access.

      but as many people have suggested here, I've probably already bored you, because you're not interested in what other people say... so off I go to my own thoughts again...

    • I'm just now starting such an experiment with audio content. The site can be visited at ZapKerPow [zapkerpow.com]. Amongst the usual message forums, live chat areas, etc. you'll find the main feature: an audio stream built entirely from listener contributions. Submissions can be called into our "studio line" at 206-219-6706 or submitted as MP3 files via an online upload form [zapkerpow.com].

      While the audio mix is lacking a central theme or organization now, I'm hoping for some feedback and ideas. Thoughts along this line include special weekly segments, rotating through content on a set schedule, holding contests and give-aways, etc.

      More information on the project can be read here [zapkerpow.com].

    • some aren't a online diary, they are one person's filter of the net.

      for instance, I read dangerousmeta [dangerousmeta.com] almost daily. I don't know all that much about garret's daily activities but I know he posts a decent assortment of news and tech links without too much commentary. I've been reading long enough to slightly understand his point of view, adding an extra understanding that I might otherwise miss or be annoyed by.

      The art is in the communication.

  • My Project (Score:2, Funny)

    by xtremex ( 130532 )
    I have developed a project called JSPBlog which is a Weblog written in JSP.
    I found a million and one written in PHP, so I developed mine in JSP and servlets...
    I always loved the idea of a weblog. You can take a look at it at http://jspblog.sf.net [sf.net]
  • Read slashdot at -1 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sulli ( 195030 ) on Wednesday July 31, 2002 @04:23PM (#3988358) Journal
    and you'll see all sorts of interesting stories. Novels, no, but not short either!
    • Ah yes, the one about Taco snotting is quite a gripping documentary, and the various literary works from the Dead Penis Bird leave me pondering the meaning of life, while the never tiring page-widening-post leaves me in stitches every time.
  • by bentini ( 161979 ) on Wednesday July 31, 2002 @04:24PM (#3988364)
    This isn't meant to be a flame.

    It seems to me that this is similar to other ideas, both that the author recognizes and some that he may not. Dickens, for instance, first published much of his canon in a serial form. Great Expectations, e.g., was first published in pieces (which you can notice if you read it). This aspect of the "new" art form seems to me to be fairly old.

    The one "new" aspect may be the "unedited" nature of the medium. The web allows publishing to be cheap enough that few enough people's financial futures are at stake to require that the produced content be of any conceivable literary merit or commercial quality. On the other hand, the radio show of HHGTTG seemed to be done in a manner that may not have had that much time to go back over it. So that's close.

    All in all, it's an interesting idea that may bring together old art forms with the new medium, but I wouldn't say it's revolutionary or necessarily that experimental, in the sense of wondering "whether it is at all possible to use it as an artistic medium to produce interesting work." Of course it is. You may be shooting yourself in the foot by not using an editor, though.

    • All that you say is true. However, I never said that it was "revolutionary" or anything remotely like that. The connection with serialized works is strong yes, but I sense the blog structure might have other things to add to it. In any case, the idea is not to replace a novel. You can't replace a print novel with anything, not an ebook, not hypertext novels, not websites. Each has its category. In blogs (as in webpages) the content mixes in part with the user interface, and this is probably where the most interesting things are to be found: how navigation changes content, and viceversa.
  • by Nurlman ( 448649 ) on Wednesday July 31, 2002 @04:24PM (#3988365)
    I notice this in your FAQ:

    entries are "improvisational," by which I mean that you usually sit down, write it, and post it. There isn't a lot of preparation, hours of editing or things like that. You write it, you post it.

    "Preparation" and "hours of editing" are the difference between good writing and bad. Don't be fooled by the medium-- even a good blog entry has lots of thought, preparation, and editing behind it.

    Unless you've already sat down and thought about storylines, character development, plotting, and pacing, your story is likely to end up an unreadable, uninteresting mess. Real authors of novels don't just sit down and blurt out whatever comes into their head at any given moment. Don't assume that the immediacy of the blog format will substitute for good preparation and planning.

    • "Preparation" and "hours of editing" are the difference between good writing and bad.
      Not necessarily. There's something to be said for extemporaneous writing -- sometimes it's good to publish something before you've had the opportunity to second-guess it. Personally, I like to edit copy to death, but that's my preference. Whether extemporaneous or meticulously edited, I think the work should be judged on its own merits. You can't assume something is bad based on time frame in which it was written.
      • Not necessarily. There's something to be said for extemporaneous writing -- sometimes it's good to publish something before you've had the opportunity to second-guess it. Personally, I like to edit copy to death, but that's my preference. Whether extemporaneous or meticulously edited, I think the work should be judged on its own merits. You can't assume something is bad based on time frame in which it was written.

        Johnson's Rasselas was I believe written in about a week - from his mother's death until the time when he had to pay the undertaker's bill! But it is edited, do not doubt that.

        Editing does, in fact, affect the quality of written work. Unedited work is usually unreadable. But one can, if one is particularly focused, do a whole lot of editing and rewriting in a short amount of time.

        Ultimately a blog novel would be nothing more than a diary novel with more than one person entering information in a diary. Not revolutionary, but an interesting idea. At one point I was working on an email novel - the entire novel would be made up of the emails written among a group of characters. But this is little more than a variation on the epistolary novel.

        It's a decent idea, but hardly worth too much fuss about.

    • Real authors of novels don't just sit down and blurt out whatever comes into their head at any given moment. Don't assume that the immediacy of the blog format will substitute for good preparation and planning.

      Not so. Like all art forms there are authors who do in fact just sit down and write, and those who plan meticulously and then re-edit through many drafts before they are ready to "go live". And of course lots of authors somewhere in between these two extremes.

      There really are artistic "idiot savants": by all accounts Mozart was like this - essentially a gibbering fool in life but also capable of apparently spontaneously creating some of the most moving and complex music ever written. At the opposite end of the spectrum was Beethoven who also created astounding - and astoundingly beautiful - music yet who sweated over every note and constantly re-wrote and fine-tuned his creations.
      • by all accounts Mozart was like this - essentially a gibbering fool in life

        If you think this, you are a gibbering fool, and you know nothing about the life of Mozart. There are lots of myths about Mozart; the "idiot savant" myth is merely one of many. Lord knows how they get started; certainly the movie "Amadeus" itself was responsible for fanning the flames of many of the extant myths.

        Get your hands on some letters that Mozart wrote. Find a good, well-researched biography; there are lots out there. Most myths are spread by people who don't bother to read accurate histories. You'll see clearly that he certainly was no gibbering fool.

        Belloc
    • Two other replies make good points against this argument. Personally I can say that, although the entries are written without much preparation, that doesn't mean that I don't think about them at all. And the story is always there, whether you are thinking about it consciously or not.
    • ... your story is likely to end up an unreadable, uninteresting mess.

      You ain't seen nuthin' yet!
  • There are some inherent problems with this. A good story gets changed a million ways from sunday; blogs can be edited, but in keeping a viewership interested on a daily basis, you might find your viewership getting tired of having to read the retread story.

    Weblogs in themselves are interesting, and journals are useful for novel creation, but I don't see this as an extremely useful or profitable enterprise. If you're Asimov, and can write as much crap as you want w/o having to re-edit your work, as I've seen him claim (either Asimov or Piers Anthony; neither would surprise me), then it might be an interesting venture. But if you're like most people, a novel requires a lot of thought and a lot more editing, and a daily weblog may not be the best way to go about it, unless you want feedback.
  • what kind of navigation to use besides the basic calendar navigation of the blog?

    How about related articles? You could keep track of a story thread by providing links to related stories, so I, for example, could read about a biking trip you took, and then go back/forward to read more biking tales. Also, will the whole thing be free, or would you consider charging for certain sections?

    This sounds interesting. Good luck to you!!
    • This has already been done, in a sense by 253 [ryman-novel.com] - an novel and website by Geoff Ryman.

      The wonder of Rymans novel is the intertwined stories of normal life that unfold as you read (or browse) - well worth a look for anyone interested in this kind of thing
  • by mattbelcher ( 519012 ) <.matt. .at. .mattbelcher.com.> on Wednesday July 31, 2002 @04:31PM (#3988407) Homepage
    I had the idea a while back of creating a whole fictional community of blogs through which to tell a story. Basically, I would set up a network of sites, one for each character, and they would relate the events of the story from their own points of view. Characters that knew one another would have links to each other's sites, thus informing the reader of the connections. This approach might lead to something more like War of the Worlds and other fictional journalism, as opposed to a fictional diary, as in the proposed work.
    • This is a pretty good idea. It'd be almost impossible to do live, though, due to the amount of planning involved. Something else I just thought about: you would be sure to have links from blogs outside "your" community. It would be quite interesting to see the effect your characters have on those works.
  • when did the blog... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sebastopol ( 189276 ) on Wednesday July 31, 2002 @04:31PM (#3988409) Homepage

    Ok, so I've been surfing since Mosaic 1.0 in 1994, and ftp'ing pr0n for zurich.ai.mit.edu since 1990, and the first time I heard of a 'blog' was a few months ago. The odd thing is, this discussion of blogs came out of the news websites and not the nerd websites.

    when the hell did blogs become so famous? and are they just the modern equivalent of .plan? i get the impression they are the creation of low-tech people in the high-tech world. not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, but it took me by surprise that it became such a phenomenonemon.

    ?

    • by dev0n ( 313063 )
      rebecca blood wrote a very good essay on the history of weblogs [rebeccablood.net] that you may want to check out. she's since authored two books about blogging.
      • To think that I would one day ask that. Thank you Sebastopol for asking a question I have never dared to ask. Thank you devon for this great link.

        I don't know if Rebecca Blood's essay was mentioned on Slashdot when it was published, but it is definitely worthy of being some "Stuff that matters."

        Damn, it almost makes me want to start a blog.
    • and are they just the modern equivalent of .plan?
      No. .plan is a tool for hiding ASCII porn or witty sayings on the campus network where most people will never think to look. At least that's all I've ever seen it used for...

      By contrast, blogs contain narratives.

  • . . . an epistolary novel. Look it up. [wikipedia.com]
    • I agree.
      Isn't a blog just an online version of your standard paper diary? Writing a novel as if it were a diary, or even turning a diary into a novel, isn't exactly new. (The first example to come to mind is Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl)

      I don't see where the author is breaking new ground, except possibly that we get to see the work in progress, rather than as a finished piece? Certainly stories have been published piecemeal before (esp in magazines and the like), though I have not personally seen any serial stories written in diary-entry style.

      As a side note, there are many cases of people who make blogs for ficticious people, which seems to be an analogous style of work.

      Just my $0.02
      -Leliel
  • the end of writing? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tps12 ( 105590 ) on Wednesday July 31, 2002 @04:32PM (#3988415) Homepage Journal
    While I applaud any and all attempts to update the antiquated form of the novel for the modern era, I think it may be a classic case of "too little, too late." When you use the Internet as a medium, you are by necessity targetting the Internet demographic, which can be described as middle class Americans and Western Europeans in the 12-28 age bracket. That means the oldest people in your target audience will have been born when disco was in full swing.

    These people came of age in the early 80's. They grew up with cartoons, MTV, hair bands and cocaine. They've been disillusioned, become disillusioned with their disillusionment, and are jaded and cynical as a result. With middle age creeping up on them, they have neither the time nor the desire to sit down and read, whether in a library or on a computer screen.

    But is this so terrible? I'd propose that, no, it isn't. Look at what has gone before: we've lost great art forms such as traditional oral storytelling, the inscription of heiroglyphics into stone tablets, papyrus scrolls. The printing press upset the wonderful tradition of books copied and illuminated (illustrated) by monks. Yes, it is sad when traditional and familiar art forms fade away, but it also signifies progress.

    We're reaching a point where the sheer amount of information available exceeds the expressive power of the book. Flash, DVD, and video games are the media of the future. This attempt to adapt what is essentially a dying and doomed art form to modern tastes is touching, but ultimately doomed to failure. And while we should (and probably will) all look back fondly on the Book Era, we should not shy from our destiny in the Information Age.

    We are on the verge of accomplishing great things for Mankind. This is a time like no other previous, and with all probability like none to come. Let us not be distracted by nostalgia and wistful dreams.
    • That means the oldest people in your target audience will have been born when disco was in full swing.

      Nice troll. Many of us were born when LSD was in full swing, thank you very much.

    • This post really made me think. I thought it was 100% serious until I read the last two paragraphs, and I'm still not sure it isn't.

      middle class Americans and Western Europeans in the 12-28 age bracket. ... With middle age creeping up on them,

      As somebody just past 28, I have to disagree that anybody younger than me can see middle age over their shoulder.

      But is this so terrible? I'd propose that, no, it isn't. Look at what has gone before: we've lost great art forms such as traditional oral storytelling, the inscription of heiroglyphics into stone tablets, papyrus scrolls. The printing press upset the wonderful tradition of books copied and illuminated (illustrated) by monks. Yes, it is sad when traditional and familiar art forms fade away, but it also signifies progress.

      I think some of these are a loss (oral storytelling particularly) but I don't think stone carvings or papyrus are missed. The latter are still "print media" - just like a book but more unwieldy.

      We're reaching a point where the sheer amount of information available exceeds the expressive power of the book. Flash, DVD, and video games are the media of the future.

      I don't see any of these as a bigger threat to books than the "moving pictures" we've had for many decades. Interactivity is certainly making leaps and bounds in entertainment, but it is not a full replacement of non-interactive media.

      This attempt to adapt what is essentially a dying and doomed art form to modern tastes is touching, but ultimately doomed to failure. And while we should (and probably will) all look back fondly on the Book Era, we should not shy from our destiny in the Information Age. We are on the verge of accomplishing great things for Mankind. This is a time like no other previous, and with all probability like none to come. Let us not be distracted by nostalgia and wistful dreams.

      Discuss.
    • Nah,I don't see it as "too little, too late" at all. It's simply "too little". The side-effect of the Internet being brought, inexpensively, to the masses is the ability for anyone to publish anything to the world at almost no cost.

      You have a flood of poor quality web sites with poor quality writing. It seems to me that many folks are looking for a new method of presentation as the "solution" to make their web site stand out - when in reality, the answer is to publish something substantial and worth reading!

      I've been on very popular web sites that use nothing but plain HTML, in only the default font size and style - and almost no graphics or illustrations. People keep coming back because of the quality of information found there. Typically, they fill a niche. (EG. Someone offers a comprehensive online database of police scanner frequencies. This fills a need for hobbyists with police scanners, and saves them money buying books with similar information - so they go there.)

      I think the "blog" is simply the latest hyped-up Internet fad. The mass media keeps covering it because they don't want to miss out, if it really does take off.

      Like everything else, *some* blogs will become successful and popular - but only because they're written by good authors.
  • here [improvisation.ws] Although it is not a novel, it has some similarities.
  • Ideally, you should also be able to navigate the text in different directions, which means that the story will be more "experiential" than plot-oriented. I hate plot-oriented stories anyway.

    So basically, you're creating a character who will then tell 'their story' through the blog?
    I didn't fully read all the entries, but is the character supposed to be posting on the blog, or is the blog itself just the medium?

    Also, I couldn't immediately ascertain this by reading the story, but does time for the character correspond to the time and date on the blog?

    I think these would be important things for the audience to be able to figure out quickly, to help them get into the story and get to know the character.

    All in all, I think this is a cool concept, and would be interesting alongside traditional fiction, perhaps even movies. E.G. You could be reading a story set in a certain time period about a character or two, and go online and read a character's blog about occurances during that time period to get a better idea about small events that might not advance the plot, but would be otherwise interesting in regards to the development of that character.

    i bet a lot of minor characters would have entries complaining that the main character is always in the limelight. =)
    • I'll try to answer these the best I can in a short time. The questions are great though and I'll make sure I add them to the FAQ. > So basically, you're creating a character who > will then tell 'their story' through the blog? not necessarily. It is told in first person because I thought it would be easier to adapt into the blog format (considering all the other unknowns). > I didn't fully read all the entries, but is the > character supposed to be posting on the blog, > or is the blog itself just the medium? The blog is the medium, but I think that the medium is affecting the story. The character is not posting on the blog, it's just telling the story, but in self-consistent chunks. > Also, I couldn't immediately ascertain this by > reading the story, but does time for the > character correspond to the time and date on > the blog? No. This is something that I've been grappling with, because it's confusing, but many people expect blogs to have timestamps. I might change it though. > I think these would be important things for the > audience to be able to figure out quickly, to > help them get into the story and get to know > the character. I agree. After a few days I will try to find ways to fix these problems or at least "document them" enough so they are less confusing.
  • Storylines (Score:5, Funny)

    by guttentag ( 313541 ) on Wednesday July 31, 2002 @04:35PM (#3988433) Journal
    In most stories, there are various tales to follow. For instance, one might detail your relationship with your wife at home, another may deal with your extended family, another focuses on the daily odyssey you call a commute, while another paints a sinister picture of the evil man in the next cubicle over who plays the same two Creed songs through his computer speakers all day long.

    You could organize your blog according to topic, and then add entries under each heading:

    The Angel of My Life
    • The best sex ever
    • My life changed forever when I met her
    Satin? You Want the Next Cubicle Over
    • I used to like Creed
    My Daily Odyssey
    • Turn signals are not a sign of weakness
    • Where's the fire?
    • The philosophy of "Stop and Go"
    People I Can't Seem to Get Rid of...
    • My mom makes the best chocolate chip cookies
    • Aunt Helen, the nitpicker
    • My cousin the wench
    • My cousin the wench, Part II
    The Person No One Knows
    • Covert excursions to the park
    • My day as a troll
    Would it be "interesting?" I guess that's up to you.
  • Wiki as Blog (Score:3, Interesting)

    by UsonianAutomatic ( 236235 ) on Wednesday July 31, 2002 @04:35PM (#3988434) Homepage
    I think a much better (and ready-made) UI for an experiment like this would be a Wiki; if you really want the calendar style navigation you've got the 'RecentChanges' page, but otherwise navigation is much more organic, and from an authoring standpoint it's much more stream of conciousness; creating a new page is as simple as creating a link to it.

    I began using a Wiki for my own site a few weeks ago and I like it a lot better than the chronological format that seems to be the standard for "Blogs"; information becomes contextual and meaningful as crosslinks develop between pages. You don't have the compartmentalization that comes with organization by date and/or category.

    As an added experiment in meaningful context, I integrated the top five Google search results as sidebar links for each and every Wiki page on my site... sometimes the links aren't really all that related to the page's topic, but most of the time they're dead on. My next plan is to include the top five referring URLs on each page as well, which should get some interesting feedback happening in combination with Google's links.
  • Ray Bradbury wrote an excellent book called Dandelion Wine. It gives the summer adventures of two fictional young boys as a collection of short stories. The stories follow a roughly chronological sequence and contain elements introduced in other stories, but each one can be read and understood independently of all the others. It is unlike Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles because there is a definite overall plot in the aggregation of stories. The Martian Chronicles is just a collection of related stories that do not compose an overall plot.

    If I understood you correctly, these were some of the ideas you had. These two books are worth a read if you'd like to see what's been done before.

  • How is this news?

    I mean really. Blogging is someone putting a paragraph or 2 (or a dozen) a day, a week, etc into an online journal. They are often trivial. Personally I think thats why people like them. They show that other people involve themselves in the trivial aspects of their own lives as much as the rest of us.

    As for a story, go ahead and write one. But the difference between yours, and everyone else who blogs is, theirs might actually be true.

    Then again, maybe they are already telling a story, and we don't know it yet.

  • A friend of mine started a parody blog of the blogs that overwrought, overdramatic teens sometimes write. A soap opera in blog format so to speak.

    Most people think blogs are uninteresting snippets of uninteresting people. Why not invent an interesting person?
  • As far as this goes, in the FAQ:

    "new readers that might arrive at any day in the weblog (and hence the story) and old readers that might skip one or more days in it. As long as each entry has some meaning on its own, it should be possible to create something interesting (even something coherent!)."

    It sounds a lot like William S. Burroughs' idea that he used in his book Naked Lunch. The idea is that the reader can open up the book to any page, at any point, begin reading and get a story, not just a section of a whole story. I suggest reading that novel to get a better picture of how he accomplishes this (which he does, for the most part), and as a general guide on what you think works/doesn't work. Be warned, though: that book isn't for everyone.


    As far as this goes, in the FAQ:

    "entries are "improvisational," by which I mean that you usually sit down, write it, and post it. There isn't a lot of preparation, hours of editing or things like that. You write it, you post it. Maintaining this should not be hard, mainly it would seem to remove most of the editing phase from the writing process."

    This feels like the point of view that Jack Kerouac had with his writings, not to mention a whole lot of the others in the Beat Generation. If you haven't I'd suggest getting your hands on anything from that time period, not only wil you probably like it (as it goes along the lines of your blognovel idea), it may also help you get this thing going.

  • The blog format is just another potential tool for the literary process. It is thus important to consider the properties of this tool to decide how to use it.

    What new capabilites does the blog bring to the table? What new stories does it allow you to tell? What new writer-reader dynamics does it allow? Fiction in the form of journal entries is not a new thing. Done well, it can create a sense of intimacy between the writer and the reader. Long running web comic strips such as Sluggy Freelenace [sluggy.com] show that you can get away with a long running plot in little daily chunks on the web.

    At the same time, you have to consider the bad properties of such a tool. As with many serial novels, people may be unlikely to start in the middle, or backtrack years to catch up. Many people tend to find it tiresome or slightly painful to read novel length stretches of text off of a computer screen.

    I'd say, if you have a story to tell that fits the form, go ahead. I don't tend to see it as such a breakthrough for literature, just another slight variation in the art of storytelling.


  • Lets not forget that although offtopic most of, if not all of the time; some of the troll posts on slashdot make for good reading (try browsing at -1 for a bit, most of the interesting stuff is down there anyway (as long as you dont click on the links!)) Take, for example, the postings of BankofAmerica_ATM. Quite well written, in my opinion. Or, for a more amusing example, the writings of Migor. Not very coherent, but damn funny stuff.

    • BankofAmerica_ATM.

      I'll second this, that guy (gal, whatever) isn't a troll, he's an author. Regular readers can clearly see the progression of the artists writting style and technique, and the story is darn interesting.

      Or at least it was, I haven't checked it out in a few months.
  • There was a message board on a BBS I used to go on(long since perished in the rise of the Internet) that was for such a thing... It worked fairly nicely. As for navigation, just make it clear when each entry was made. Ideally, I'd have it start with the first entry, so that its easy to follow the story from beginning to end. Perhaps use cookies so that repeat visitors can start off again where they left off last time... If not cookies, use some means of bookmarking exact locations.
  • Let's see a show of hands of /.ers that read or even write blogs. Wow. I see about 10000000 hands. Hmm? Oh, sorry. That would be binary.

    Blogs. Jeez. Can't we get back to the User Vs. the Machine stuff now?

  • "I hate plot-oriented stories anyway.

    Yeah, I hate it when plot [dictionary.com] gets in the way of a good story [dictionary.com]...

  • the Choose Your Own Adventure [capnwacky.com] books I used to read, at least in the non-linear navigation aspect.

    I'm not too familiar with blogging, but to set up a blognovel, wouldn't you need to write something where the concept of "what happens next" is unimportant? Can one write an story without chronology? I suppose Naked Lunch [uni-bremen.de] was pretty devoid of a timeline.
  • Not trying to be a troll, but why did this make slashdot? Blogs aren't anything new. Novels aren't anything new. Using a blog to tell a story is about 5 minutes older than the first blog. Why is this more intereting than This [wired.com] [spam-scams] or This [cnn.com] [Cyber athletes] or even This [jesus.com] [Pure shock value].
  • You might look at Invisible Seattle's 1984 BBS-based in.s.omni [spinelessbooks.com], a collaborative effort that involved putting kiosks at art shows and in the basement cafe of the Elliot Bay Book Company, along with dial-in access. It used a room-based BBS arrangement plus the assumption of the names and personae of literary-artistic semi-obscure but mythic characters by the principals. As I remember it, it was a lot more fun - and smarter - than anything on the Web. But we were satisfied with such simple toys then.
  • since I'm fascinated with his tale, I'd like to point out the work of jorm [livejournal.com], who's currently writing a (superhero?) story told episodically via livejournal.

    He's left me chomping at the bit for more.
  • ...but a long time ago, in an era far far away (the late 80's, pre-public internet when bbs's were king), there was a BBS in Portland, OR that was basically a simple front to two CPM 8" floppy disks in append-only mode. As each floppy filled up, the system would switch to the other and the full one would be replaced with an empty one. People posted anonymously and creatively and it had a loyal following for several years... A limited audience probably helped the signal-to-noise ratio, but it sounds like a less structured version of what you're talking about here, and it worked pretty well...
  • This is the weblog of a girl who clerks at an adult video store. [improvisation.ws] The subject is rather interesting and its well written. It's probably, unfortunately, the pinacle of weblogs at least for me. The adult video store weblog was an intersting read, the one on salon made me wish I was reading an adult video store weblog :)

    Some of us might remember The Spot [archive.org] A now defunct weblog that tried to make a go of commercializing this form of entertainment (they failed, they even manage to fail at the pinacle of the dot com craze). And they managed to fail with PICTURES!

    I guess the moral of the story is, if you're going to do a weblog, make it something interesting like a clerk at an adult video store or maybe a massage parlor or something where you have a lot of quirky personalities to talk about. :-)

  • Back in the BBS days (*sigh* ... pause for warm fuzzy memory) here in Australia there was an echo-mail area called "Life the Universe and Everything". The whole point of this area was the development of a semi-continuous complex-as-buggery story. The story was created by the participants over time. It was a very weird experience to jump in the first time. The main point seemed to be to impress everyone else with your creativity, wit and dramatic flair. The story was so convoluted that newbies had practically no chance.

    Still it was an interesting area. People got severely addicted to it. But it wasn't a novel, it was however a kind of fiction. It reminds me of a blind double date I once went on. I knew the other girl, she was really really smart. We ended up having a coded, semi-fictional fantasy exchance across the table that just kept escalating in complexity ... the others couldn't follow it. That's what Life etc was like.

    Good luck. But don't expect a novel. A novel is a very particular kind of fiction. A lot of enjoyable fiction that is called a "novel" today is not a Novel.

  • ...so great in fact, it'll never work.

    Why? Because you'll get feedback, good or bad, that will (at the very least subliminally) change your mind about where the story should go.

    The story is first. No matter what book(s) you read about writing and fiction, the story should be king. If it's not, you might as well hang up those typing hands and give it up.

    The problem with this is that first of all, and this happens ALL the time, you'll just plain ole run out of ideas. But then, you'll protest, by all of the feedback you're getting you'll get more ideas. Well, here we have the Too Many Cooks In The Kitchen scenario that plagues most writerly "collaborations." Everyone wants to have their say, and when you start in one direction, even a tiny bit, by the time you get another hundred pages or so, you've altered your original narrative in such a way that you'll hardly recognize it anymore.

    The second, and most important problem? No rewrites. Lemme land a quote on ya: "The first draft of everything is shit." - Ernest Hemingway. Smart guy. He's right too. The simple fact is that when you finish a writing a large or small piece of fiction, there is at least 10% fluff that needs to be trimmed. Normally more, but I myself shoot for 10% at the least. The problem with the blognovel is that, once you get so far into the story, and you realize something is off, there's no way to change it without editing what may amount to dozens of entries. Then you get frustrated. Then you panic. Then you give up.

    You note Great Expectations and its episodic format. But what you don't realize, and what I'd stake my life on, is that Dickens probably finished at least two or three large sections, rewrote the first one, published it, wrote another large section, rewrote the second part, published that one, and so on.

    With this format you don't have the luxury of forgetting parts of it, only to rediscover them later on your first readthrough. Not doing so is subjecting many an unsuspecting reader on something they didn't know they were in for: a novel that's not a novel but wants to be a novel but will never actually be a novel.

    You have an idea; just the wrong way to go about it.

    Here's a suggestion: how about building a story with multiple blogs of fictional people? You can design sites with fictional towns and places (imagine, you can build your own fictional police force website, write your own police reports about incidents, etc) and then link them together with a condusive narrative. This would also work well with more than one writer, all of you with your own story, just interwoven with one another. But hey, it's just an idea.

    Good luck.
  • Ah.. flashbacks to the old BBS days...

    ---N

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