I was pointed to The Hayfield by a link in the comments, and I wrote in reply at that time that I wasn’t sure I really ‘got’ what the site was about. After taking another, longer look, I think I get it now, but I’m not sure that it’s having the intended effect on me. And it’s an open question whether that says something about me or something about the site.
To be fair, it’s all very well done, and I really don’t know the extent to which I’m supposed to actually care emotionally about any of the content. If it’s a gag, but for some reason I’m waiting to be shaken to the core, well, that’s a problem of expectations on my part, not execution. But the very fact that I’m not quite sure what’s going on means to me that I’m thinking more than I’m feeling, and that I’m studying more than I’m reacting.
Here’s a taste:
What would I say to the website’s readers? First of all, I’d say to enjoy the poem. One reason I’m prosecuting Scattergood is that I really liked The Hayfield along with its drunk farmer and his inky eclipse. The poet deserved better. Next, I’d recommend scrolling through the commentary by UCLA’s ’away team’ of literary scholars and scientists. What they’re each saying from that Ozark hay farm about one another, the poem, and the eclipse all read like a blogged episode of Lost.
There’s nothing wrong with that at all. It’s solidly written stuff.
But still, the site as a whole reinforces a feeling that’s been growing in me the past couple of weeks that uncertainty as a technique is not particularly effective — at least for me. I’m not encouraged to read more or learn more when I’m not sure what I’m reading or learning. Maybe some people are, and maybe some people instantly connect with this kind of site/fiction, but somehow I feel like the site should melt away at some point as all mediums of storytelling do. Yet it doesn’t.
Is that an inherent problem with online fiction? Is clicking, or perhaps more accurately choosing what to click on disruptive of suspension of disbelief? I have no problem flipping pages in a novel and staying immersed in a story, but then I don’t have to think about which page I’m turning to next. Because it’s the next page.
With The Hayfield I couldn’t really ever shake the feeling that I was lost somehow. Like I was clicking on things in the wrong order, or maybe missing some important information. And yes, that caused me to click some more, for a while, but as I continued reading the unsettled feeling refused to abate. So after a time I stopped.
But decide for yourself. There’s plenty of wit, and the straight parts are played admirably straight. Maybe it’s me. Click on the link above and drop in where I dropped in, and see for yourself. Do you get involved in a way that takes you somewhere else, or are you always looking at a screen of text on your computer? Am I asking too much?
[At the last minute, just before publishing this post, I saw a link to WFG on the Hayfield site. Following it led me to a brief page describing the Hayfield site, which included these tags: blogfic · comedy · experimental · mystery. From those tags I’d say they actually hit their mark, and are to be congratulated. But as a reader I needed that outside info to know where I was, and as someone who’s thinking about joining in this great experiment that’s a cautionary note to me. And what if I hadn’t seen that WFG link?]
— Mark Barrett
I agree that it takes a bit to figure out what is up, however as you pointed out, once I did I was able to enjoy the writing. Maybe they should have a tab with a better explanation of the ‘experiment’…or would that defeat the point?
I don’t know what the best answer is. Having seen this kind of issue come up in interactive entertainment, it’s probably going to take a lot of different attempts before the best answer is obvious. (Sometimes you can’t think your way to the right solution.)
It didn’t entice me at all, and I never went back. And that’s a big problem with any online fic; you’ve got one chance to hook readers, and it’s too easy to blow it. With all the choice out there, you’re unlikely to get a second chance.
As separate thoughts I agree with everything you say here. But I don’t think I would say that The Hayfield blew it. (And I’m not implying that you’re saying that either.)
Take the sum total of available online *anything* and I’m probably not going to click with a high percentage of it. But I’m comfortable with my own subjectivity, whether it’s flavors of ice cream or works of fiction. I know what I like when I taste it.
As I a writer myself, I think The Hayfield is ably concocted, so it’s really a question of the work finding its own audience — whether that means thousands or dozens. Works that are flawed, however, will be serially punished by the inevitability of the last point you make. Which means anyone trying to make an online splash needs to remember your final words: you’re not going to get a second chance with any reader.
Finally, as frenzies build and break on our frenzy-feeding culture, everyone would do well to remember Sturgeon’s Law: 90% of everything is crap. (And yes, Wikipedia, I’m deliberately misquoting the man.)