In what I’m sure is an unflattering admission, my complete unfamiliarity with the subject of fiction on the internet includes the current terminology for the various expressive forms. For example, although I had heard of individual instances of blog fiction, I didn’t know if ‘blog fiction’ was a generally-used term, or even a broadly-used, all-encompassing term.
Well, yesterday I read a short Wikipedia article on Blog Fiction which not only provided a useful overview, but also answered or at least paralleled a number of my own thoughts about the subject. I’m still not sure of the scope of the term, but I now know I’m not alone in that uncertainty. (I encourage you to read the piece when you have a moment.)
Specifically, the article confirmed my belief that there are two big questions facing blog fiction and other types of internet fiction (if such distinctions need to be made):
1) Can old and new storytelling techniques be harnessed into a mature craft which will make internet fiction the emotional and artistic equivalent of more established types of fiction?
2) Will the potential for — and seduction of — authorial ambiguity in blog fiction create useful tension as a technique, or simply confusion on the part of the reader?
The question of potential is an obvious one, and the answer is genuinely unknown. Ten years ago this same question was at the forefront of the interactive entertainment industry (computer games, as well as more experimental works), and the answer to-date has been both disappointing and obvious: interactive storytelling is not as consistently compelling as your average movie, novel or television show. Granted, the industry and the form are still maturing, and all mediums take considerable time — measured in decades — to evolve, but the concern in the interactive medium is that the pace of evolution seems to have slowed, if not stalled.
The question ten years later is not when interactive storytelling will mature, but if it will. And I think that’s where blog fiction is today. In each instance, however, the only way to learn the answer is to explore the form exhaustively. Regarding blog fiction (and other forms of internet storytelling), that’s something I would like to participate in, just as I continue to participate in exploring the storytelling potential of interactivity.
Questions of uncertainty about the authorship or authenticity of a particular work of blog fiction seem to me to be more pressing. Because of the inherent (if not established) right of anonymity that exists on much of the internet, uncertainty about identities has become a defining and liberating trait for both good and ill. In comment boxes on computer screens all over the world, anonymously-written words are valued on their own merit, rather than to the identity of the author, and this almost pure freedom of expression echoes Constitutional freedoms that are the core of democracy in America.
On a theoretical level it is at least possible that ambiguity, confusion and even outright fraud on the part of a blog fiction author may become a useful craft technique specifically effective in and relevant to blog fiction. But I don’t think that will be the case.
The right to post anonymously or to adopt an online persona is not a right to lie or to impersonate. Anonymous comments are valued on the merits, but one of the basic measures of such comments is their veracity. There is already clear evidence that faking comments or blog posts in various ways (e.g. sock puppetry) is viewed as lying.
On a craft level, the kind of audience uncertainty generated by such authorial choices usually proves corrosive (if not fatal) to narrative works — although there are some exceptions (e.g. Primary Colors) which achieve notoriety precisely because of the mystery surrounding their authorship. Unfortunately, that’s a marketing device, not a reliable craft technique upon which a new storytelling form is likely to be founded.
I need to read more about the issue, and read actual works predicated on or hinting of fakery or uncertainty, but my own experience in a variety of storytelling forms tells me that this question isn’t simply moot. In the short term this kind of coy authorial tease may provide some level of interest, but only on a level superficial to the storytelling itself. Which compels me to believe that this issue needs to be resolved before blog fiction can come into its own.
— Mark Barrett