Gosh! A Thesis On Blog Fiction!

Amazing what writing a series can do to you. The last few days I’ve been completely out of tune with the world at large, and I even lost track of most of the blooks I read.

But on to the issue on hand: I’ve just come across Betsy Friedrich’s thesis on blog fiction … and I’m very impressed with it. So maybe as a reader I could’ve done without the first chapter (Definition of Terms), but it was a thesis, so it had to explain blogs to internet virgins academicians.
proffessor tiger
Highlights from each chapter:

Chapter 1 – Definition of Terms

Here Friedrich introduces blogs and the various forms of fictional blogging – according to her there is a distinct difference between serialized fiction and ‘blog fiction’. The first may use blogs as a medium through which fiction is written, the second utilizes all aspects of blogging – ‘feeds, comment forms and hyperlinks’.

Chapter 2 – Blog Fiction as Digital Media

Much of this chapter is used to point out how comments from readers and the interactivity of the blogging medium has helped shape blog fiction. An example of this:

At its peak Simon of Space received upwards of 75 comments on each post. Some were from new readers, but there was also a group of regular readers and posters … Their comments were often in response to one another, and many readers linked one another as a result of their meeting on the fictional blog comments section … readers were able to form a real community around a fictional text without ever interacting with one another in person.

(page 17, paragraph 2)

Another interesting point she brings up is the strange isolation of fictional blogs – almost all authors of blog fiction she interviewed did not read other fictional blogs, and in many cases were not aware of others. In an interview she conducted:

I’ve been writing a fictional blog since May ’06 and I’ve been struggling to find out if there’s a community or some sort of ‘hub’ for fiction bloggers out there. Unlike other areas (e.g. technology or politics), the whole fiction blogging world seems very small and very fractured. Sure, I’ve seen quite a few other fiction blogs in my travels but there’s no real conversation’ between them. In this respect they’re quite unlike the other blogs I’ve read. Unlike, say, a political blog where you’ll get a lot of instant feed back and links to and from your blog, fiction blogging seems to be quite an isolated and, at times, disheartening experience.

(page 19, blockquote 2)

In this view the Simon in Space‘s community was a rarity.

Chapter 3 – Novels and Blogs: A Historical and Structural Analysis

Then Friedrich takes us on a trek down history – comparing blog fiction to the 18th century novel. She shows us that the 19th century novel was epistolary – or delivered in the form of letter/diary entries, a echo of blog fiction today. The rest of the chapter is spent exploring the social impact blogging has on society, interspersed with social developments and changes in the 18th century.

Chapter 4: Conversation and Dialogue

What is the difference between conversation and dialogue? Conversation is spoken, heard in everyday life – when brought into a narrative it is modified, simplified … turned into dialogue.

Friedrich shows that while fictional blogs have dialogue in their narratives, their inherent nature makes them also part of a conversation. The conversation here is through comments and trackback and the relationship between reader and writer.

Dialogue in a novel may be between several characters, but each point of view comes from one author. This is not the case on a blog. When a reader posts a comment, that comment is a genuine response to the author’s original post. There is a back-and-forth volley of thought happening where one person speaks” and another responds, just as there is in a spoken conversation.

Chapter 5: Trusting a Text: Hoaxes, False Documents, and Pseudonyms

On the Internet nobody knows you’re a dog.

This poses quite a few problems for fictional blogs – Friedrich gives examples such as Belle de Jour (Diary of a London Call Girl) and the controversy surrounding it:

Through all this, her identity has remained a mystery. Most critics are inclined to believe she is fictional and the list of attributed authors is extensive, including journalists, novelists, and the editor of an erotic magazine. All have denied involvement. In reply to an email from the British Sunday Times asking whether she plans to reveal herself, Belle simply said, “Darling —- no thank you” (Walsh).

(page 58, paragraph 1)

There are other examples presented here – Friedrich writes that fictional blogging, if and when revealed to be a fabrication, has led to a multitude of reactions – such as the furore after Lonelgirl15 was revealed to be fiction, played by actress Jessica Rose.

Viewer sentiments seemed split between three camps: those who still enjoyed the videos and suggested viewers forgive and forget, those who felt the videos were now devalued and not worth watching, and those who didn’t mind that the videos were fictional, but felt cheated out of the mystery.

(page 59, paragraph 2)

Chapter 6: Copyrights and Ownership

This chapter starts with a question first posed by Jason Kottke: who owns the conversation on your blog? You? Your readers? I love the way Friedrich poses these questions – can your readers, who affect the storyline of your blook, be considered co-authors? She gives us a case in Hilly and Fred:

… one commenter created and developed his own character by posting comments. He was able to insinuate himself into the blog’s story, thereby becoming a co-author. In this situation, the commenter could easily claim that he had helped to produce the text, and was thereby entitled to hold copyright just as much as the blog’s administrator.

Which makes you wonder what creating a community around your blook entails.

Chapter 7: Printed Pages and Flickering Screens

Ahh, the age old argument. I was particularly taken in by a point she expressed – that of trust. Text presented on the screen does not generate as much trust as a physical copy of the article:

I have experienced this distrust of on-screen text myself during research … I found an interview … in the online archives of Newsweek. I wanted to read it, so I printed it off and did so. I could hypothetically have never printed the article; I could have read it online, quoted it, and cited it, without ever printing it off. Yet I felt far more comfortable reading and using the text when I could hold it in my hands, jot notes in the margins, and flip from one page to another.

What this means for blooks may be quite worrisome … nevertheless she goes on to say that blogs are extremely useful to chart the evolution of thoughts and ideas, giving her own blog (which she used to record her progress while researching this thesis) as an example.

Her Conclusion

Betsy Friedrich sums it up with her belief that ‘fictional blogging will grow increasingly important to the publishing industry, but will remain marginal and relatively unknown to most readers.’ She goes on to say that ‘for a fictional blog to capture an audience it must be marketed professionally or be authored by an already well-known name.’

Well. Looks like I’ve got my work cut out for me.

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Category: News · Writing Web Fiction