From a craft point of view, dealing with inbound and outbound links on a fiction blog is less problematic than allowing readers to post comments. While concerns about the fourth wall should be paramount in any storyteller’s mind, links are an indirect threat. Between the functionality of modern blog software and the limits of authorial control in an open medium such as the internet, there isn’t a lot of innovating that needs to be done. [ Read more ]
Archives for October 2010
Update: Blog Fiction and NeilRorke.com
I’ve got a few posts up about blog fiction and on Neil’s site, and I wanted to follow up with a bit more explanation about what I’m doing. If you’re interested in character blogs or what fiction on the internet might become, check out NeilRorke.com. If you’re interested in how I’m approaching that site from a craft perspective, take a look here..
Neil Rorke is the main character in a novel I wrote, which I hope to publish in e-book and POD versions fairly soon. As such, presenting him in a character blog fits what I think is the evolving definition of transmedia: exploring different facets of a single storyworld through various (if not also appropriate) mediums. But it’s also the case that Neil himself fits the description of someone who would blog, and I think that’s critical. The overarching goal is for both works to explain more about Neil, and to work together to fill out his character.
The intent with Electric Fiction is to explore and document the move away from simply presenting traditional fiction for consumption on the web. A movie may be fiction, but it’s hand-crafted fiction that uses techniques specific to film. Most of the online fiction I’ve seen could also be a book, or a story in a magazine. Yes, they’re all text, but to omit the connectivity and pacing and structure of blogs or comments in internet fiction seems to me a mistake — in part because reading long works on a computer screen is difficult. (I’m not denying the utility of using the internet as a pipeline to deliver fiction to dedicated e-readers. I’m doing the same thing, and plan to do more.)
As I continue to grow Neil’s site I’ll comment on the craft problems I encounter. I’m conscious of the fact that talking about Neil’s site blows the fourth wall to smithereens, but I don’t see any way around that. My hope is that Neil’s site will be enjoyed by readers, while comments about Electric Fiction here will be of interest to writers.
— Mark Barrett
The Comment Question
Because the internet delivers sound and imagine it can be used not only to distribute content, but to present it: video clips, streaming movies, novel-length text, music — virtually every kind of content imaginable can be experienced on a computer of any size. Turning the internet to the end of storytelling is something else entirely, even as the end product will also be communicated through sound and image.
Imagine a single story told through these mediums: stage, screen, novel. While the characters and plot would be the same in all instances, the techniques used to dramatize the story — to convey the narrative to an audience in a way that supports suspension of disbelief in each medium — would necessarily be different. It’s also possible, if not likely, that for any particular story one medium might be better than the others, because the strengths of that medium aid the cause of dramatization. Novels are excellent at putting you in the mind of a character, and lend themselves wonderfully to narrated tales. Movies excel at the visceral and the visual, at replicating reality, and now, through CGI, bringing fantasies to life. Theater excels at intimacy and at communicating the reality and complexity of human emotion.
The strength of the internet is communication and conversation. To approach the internet as a storytelling medium without acknowledging and embracing that aspect of the medium would be like using motion picture technology to film theater productions — which, oddly enough, is exactly what was done in the early days of film. The techniques that defined film as a medium came later, and only as a result of experimentation with the technology and form.
While many people have presented fiction on the web, and some people have tried writing dedicated character blogs, my survey over the past year suggests that many of these efforts replicate craft techniques from other mediums, rather than emphasizing techniques unique to the internet itself. In my own character blog at NeilRorke.com, I’m particularly interested in embracing and leveraging the strengths of the internet to the greatest possible extent. [ Read more ]
Blog Fiction and the Fourth Wall
If you’re not familiar with the fourth wall as a concept integral to storytelling, here’s the gist of it:
The fourth wall is the imaginary “wall” at the front of the stage in a traditional three-walled box set in a proscenium theatre, through which the audience sees the action in the world of the play.
The central idea of the fourth wall is that the characters inside the fictional world remain unaware of the audience, even as the audience sits only feet away. If the audience breaks into thunderous applause, or begins to throw rotting fruit, the actors continue to attempt to exist in their own fictional space, apart from the physical reality of the theater. [ Read more ]
Storytelling and the NFL
I like sports. What I like most is that sports go against the deterministic grain of storytelling. Where the effect of a story is prepared by authors in advance, the outcome of a sporting event is determined as it unfolds. As a storyteller I can often intuit how a drama will play out because I can see the thin wires of preparation leading to a particular resolution or turn of events. In sports there is no script. Just a cast of characters driven by goals and constrained by a set of rules.
This doesn’t mean, however, that there is no narrative in sports. Quite the contrary. The experience of watching a sporting event can be as emotionally involving, if not physically taxing, as any scripted story. Audience investment in the outcome of a particular game, or in the performance of a particular player, or a decisive moment, can lead to heights of excitement and depths of despair.
As with drama, the ability of an audience to become emotionally engaged in a sporting event hinges on the audience’s mental state. Prepare a safe and supportive context and you get wild enthusiasm. Force them to confront realities they don’t want to confront and enthusiasm will wane. [ Read more ]
Site Notice: Server Issues
It’s almost beyond belief to me that I’m continuing to have trouble with my site host, Network Solutions. I apologize to anyone who’s tried to visit this site or the small site I put up at the beginning of the week. The amount of data I’m trying to move is trivial, but for some reason the addition of one site to NetSol’s server capacity seems to have crippled its ability to send pages to your screen — if it allows those pages to be served at all.
I am once again in tech support hell, and have once again managed to escalate the issue to NetSol’s tech support by demonstrating that the problem is not on my end. I have tried several of the fixes they asked me to try, and if they didn’t make things worse they did nothing to resolve the problems at hand. My hope is that the issue will be resolved shortly.
— Mark Barrett
Transparency as a Critical Goal in Blog Fiction
When you pick up a book you know you only have to turn a few pages in order to begin to enjoy the contents. You don’t even have to engage the contents of those pages if you don’t want to: you can simply look for Chapter 1 and dig in.
If the contents are fiction, you know once you immerse yourself in the story that you will not be interrupted by authorial asides or editor’s footnotes. You will be allowed to forget about the book as a mechanism and as you embrace the contents.
When you watch a movie you expect the movie to believe in itself — unless it’s an art film whose raison d’etre is disrupting the audience’s “easy relationship with the cinema”.* Scenes play out without commentary from the director or actors, allowing the audience to believe in the world of the story. Editing, a musical score — everything is aimed at supporting the audience’s suspension of disbelief while making the medium itself transparent.
Even bonus commentary on DVD’s can do damage to an audience’s ability to suspend disbelief. While it’s interesting to hear how a movie is made — at least once — it’s also a bit of a letdown to learn that a gripping scene was the result of accident. “We only had one copy of the Magna Carta on the shoot. When the AD fell off the crane and split his head open, somebody grabbed it and used it to stanch the blood. What you see the dying wife holding in this scene is actually a place mat from a diner down the street.” [ Read more ]
WordPress as a “Known Issue”
I put up a small WordPress site over the weekend. It’s on my shared-hosting package, meaning the new site resides on the same sever share that this site sits on.
After pointing people to the new site today I received a message that it couldn’t be accessed. I checked and it worked for me, but when I checked again a few minutes later I got a ‘permission denied’ page, as if the site was unavailable or under construction. Over the next ten minutes or so I was able to replicate the problem on the other site, and even on this site.
My first tech support call to Network Solutions — my site host — went well enough. They showed me how to reset the permissions on my site, and things seemed better after that. Until a couple of hours later, when the same thing happened again.
My second tech support call was less reassuring. Not only was I told that the intermittent errors were a result of total server load, but WordPress was specifically described as a ‘known issue’ in taxing server bandwidth.
Uh…no. If you’re one of the largest hosting providers in the world, and you’re having trouble feeding my WordPress pages to a small handful of visitors, that’s not a WordPress problem, that’s a YouSuck problem.
I’m now being pointed to some helpful tips on speeding up WordPress installs, and have been advised to try using WPSuperCache (a plugin I have considered before), but having one of the most widely-used blogging apps described as a known issue by my site host is a fail.
After allowing malicious code injections into my site, failing to notify me of such in a timely manner, degrading the response time of this site to +30 seconds, and now this, I can’t recommend Network Solutions to anyone else. I’ll probably play out the end of my contract, but between now and then I’ll be looking for reliable hosting without excuses.
The good news is that while I was on hold a robo-message informed me that J.D. Powers might call to ask about my tech-support experience. Please do.
— Mark Barrett
Blog Fiction and NeilRorke.com
I’ve been thinking about publishing and fiction and the internet for over a year now, in a dedicated way. I’ve been thinking about storytelling my entire life.
How do stories take hold in the mind of the audience? How is any story changed by the medium of expression? What are the necessary ingredients of a story? What is the craft knowledge any storyteller should have?
I don’t have all the answers. I can get fifty pages into a work and be as lost as anyone who ever wrote. But I also think I understand the basics, and after fifteen years of thinking about interactive storytelling I think I know where the limits are as well.
In time the internet will become a storytelling medium itself. It’s not there yet, but the potential is considerable. To further that goal I’ve put up a site that I hope to grow over time. It’s a storytelling experiment in low-tech transmedia, aimed at entertaining an audience while also discovering and advancing useful internet-based storytelling techniques.
I’ll be discussing NeilRorke.comin greater detail, but for now I wanted to let you know that it’s up and ask for feedback. What do you think?
— Mark Barrett
Blog Fiction: An Introduction
Blog fiction sees the internet not as a distribution pipeline or as a means of presenting stories, but as a storytelling medium itself. Text, sound, image and movement have all been used to create and embrace fictional characters, events and places in other mediums, and the internet will be no different.
Blog fiction attempts to advance the cause in two ways. First, by being honest, open and upapologetic in this aim. Second, by calling attention to ways in which internet storytelling might move toward mature craft techniques similar to those in print, film, television and theater.
The first step on the journey to realizing the potential of blog fiction is clarifying the medium for the intended audience. Just as a book has its cover, a movie its opening credits, and the stage its rising curtain, blog fiction requires demarcation. Without such a portal the audience may be confused about the intent of the experience, or distracted by authorial intrusions.
To see version 0.1 of a proposed technical and craft solution, click here.