Questions For A Reader

A telephone cable against a clear blue skyJames Smythe has been doing surveys for his PhD, and I did one for him over the past week. The questions were fascinating, and forced me to take my stand on issues on blooking I hadn’t really thought about. It’s mostly written in the context of Online Fiction (all of it, not just Blog Fiction), and it took me roughly three days or so. Here it is, in all it’s opinionated glory:

James: What do you think that the internet has to offer fiction that traditional print doesn’t?
Eli: Interaction. Traditional print media is a one-way affair – authors write a story that readers lap up, and then if they want to discuss it they’ve to look for mediums: a book club, a friend in a cafe … The Internet, on the other hand, is structured like a conversation. Reader-reader and reader-author interaction is inherently part of the medium, especially if it’s in blog format. If it isn’t a blog, then … well. An email to the author is just a click away.

The other thing about the Internet which I believe opens up vistas to fiction is that it is hyperlinked. Links allow the reader easy access to a wealth of information: notes, pop-culture references, things that may or may not have connections to the narrative. This is obviously something you can’t do with traditional print (which is essentially front to back) … though on the downside it can be frightfully distractive. But that’s the Internet for you.

James: What do you think that the internet – or, online fiction, more specifically, in all of its forms – has to offer print fiction?
Eli: Can’t really think of anything. I can say what it offers to authors – instant feedback, a chance at exposure and a long shot to a book deal … but to print fiction?! Forgive me, but I can’t see beyond closer author-reader relationship that the Internet offers. Which is really good, by the way. Much better than a boring, unupdated website, designed by zombies in 1997.

James: Have you ever read anything in print that you wished you had been able to read online? And vice versa?
Eli: No for the first, yes for the second. I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve wished for a piece of online fiction to hop off the monitor and into my hands. The chair in front of the computer isn’t a very comfortable place to read fiction – if I’m on the laptop I might hop off and use Wifi to read, on the sofa, but honestly it’s too much of a hassle. And my laptop gets very, very hot. I’ve to face it: books are so much better.

James: Do you read your online fiction through the sites themselves or via RSS? Do you think that either method is beneficial? Are the aesthetics of the internet, such as they are, important to the fiction?
Eli: I read them through the sites themselves. I use RSS feeds to keep track of updates (and what the updates are about) but I detest reading them. Probably because my RSS reader (Netvibes) font is revolting. I believe the design of the site gives the text a ‘feel’ and helps to create an atmosphere for the story, however unsubstantiated that sounds. I think reading from the site is more beneficial: from an author’s point of view it gives me control over the user’s experience. For example: are the fonts easy on the eye? Is the text width too wide? Do the site colours complement the type of content (fiction) I’m delivering? Much better than leaving all these elements to a feed reader. So yeah, I think aesthetics are important to Internet fiction, particularly the type that doesn’t consist of bite-sized, standalone posts.

James: Do you agree with the statement that “the notion of fiction belongs with the print book”? [Please read this article before response, or leave answer blank.]
Eli: That depends on what you deem fiction. Are ARGs fiction? How about text based games – are they fiction? Storytellers who travel from town to town deal in fiction; daydreams can be considered fiction. The notion that fiction belongs exclusively with the print book is in itself faulty – there has always been unorthodox forms of fiction on the fringes of public consciousness – which is probably why the laymen thinks of nothing more than the novel when asked about fiction. So, no, I have to disagree.

James: Is there anything that would make you want to read online fiction more? Big name authors, writing that can only work in the format, legitimization… Anything?
Eli: Fiction that makes full use of the advantages of the medium. A lot of online fiction (actually blog fiction, really, since that’s what I’m familiar with) are just text that’s typed out and posted on the net. The same kind of text you’d find in a novel. Rarely do you get hyperlinks and all the possible tricks the net enables. For example: how about just pictures in one chapter, to express a concept? Or a character venting (in audio)?

A big name author writing blog fiction will be great, provided he modifies his writing suitably for the web. I’ll read his work, but whatever interest I have in the format will quickly wear thin if the other works out there stink.

James: Do you feel that online fiction is a genre unto itself? If we assume that 50% of online fiction doesn’t utilize the format, and it is just a means of vanity publishing – big assumption, I know – does that make it any different, really, to reading a novel made famous in print as a text file?
Eli: No, I don’t see online fiction as a genre yet. It’s still sci-fi and mystery and romance and family. Genres and fiction that belong more to traditional print media.

Right now online fiction is being utilized as just another way of (hopefully) getting published. So we’ve got a lot of slush pile works, or works that weren’t written originally for the web in mind. It’s text that belongs to paper, and not the screen. So I see no difference between the 50% and the text file.

James: If it became accepted that novels should be given away in digital form when you buy a print edition, would that entice you to read more digitally?
Eli: Definitely! Yes, yes, yes. And yes too to author extras online.

James: Say I am a famous author. My early novel – 20 years old, let’s say – is going to be published again, only this time on the net. Remediation has added hotlinks, imagery, hypertextual stylings; all those things that were going to revolutionize writing. Do you instinctively think that this would be detrimental to the original text?
Eli: My first reaction would be to say yes. It will be detrimental to the original text, because the book isn’t written for the web. But it really depends – if the novel is modified enough for the web, and enough thought has been given to it, then I suppose it can work. But it’ll have to be done by someone with Internet experience – for example links are very distractive online – they’re like bold text, beacons for reader attention.

James: Would you ever shop at, say, lulu.com as easily as you would shop at a Borders or Waterstones Book shop? Or even amazon.com?
Eli: Yes. I don’t see any problem – Amazon has proved itself to be a great bookstore, so there’s nothing wrong with the format. Probably just the quality of the fiction offered there, which we still have to work on.

James: Did the announcement of this years Blooker prize winners drive you to buy any of the books?
Eli: Nope. I wasn’t into politics, and honestly the Colby Buzzell book didn’t interest me. Thought that’s personal taste, really. I considered buying Julie and Julia after spotting it at a local bookstore, but then decided my money was better spent on something I wanted more. I went home happily with a copy of East Of Eden.

Possibly Related Posts:

Category: Publishing · Writing Web Fiction
  • http://undeadflowers.com Richard

    I completely agree with you on the question ‘Have you ever read anything in print that you wished you had been able to read online? And vice versa?’

    It’s one of those things that’s struck me every now and again: it’s much more fun to read political blogs online because your hackles are raised, you’re indignant about something. It works pretty well on a computer.

    But with fiction, you’re relaxed and you want to enjoy yourself. You want to sit back with a cup of tea and lose yourself in a book. It just doesn’t work as well on a computer.

    Richard

  • http://www.novelr.com Eli James

    Sorry for the late reply, Richard. I’ve one more week before I’m (relatively) free and can begin coming back online. I’ve been playing around with a Macbook (all over the house) recently, and I find it hard to get used to this feeling of … freedom. Of treating the Macbook as a source of relaxation. (Which it isn’t, not really. Still word docs and spreadsheets and web surfing)

    It’s different from my other laptops because it’s light, and not so hot. I think I’ll be sorry to see it go.