14 February 2010

Navigating Blog Fiction

I'm not, just yet, going to go into reviews and analysis of individual Blogfics that I've been reading - though I plan to do that soon. My reading of Blog Fiction so far has been more about exploring the structure of the narratives than the narratives themselves, and I've been thinking about the way that fictional blogs are read, or at least the way I find myself reading them. This differs from the way I read real blogs.

When I find a new blog, it's normally because I've followed a link to a specific entry. If I like that entry, I read the latest one, perhaps the latest couple, and then subscribe to the feed and read new entries as they appear. If it’s the blog of a friend, or if I really like it, and if it hasn't been updated every day for 5 years, I might go back and read it all from the beginning. If they've blogged on a topic that particularly interests me, I might click on the tag and see what else they have to say about that topic, ignoring the rest of the blog. But generally, I read as they write, starting from the point I added them and not really looking back, because life doesn’t go that way. Fictional blogs are different: I’m aware that there’s a narrative, and narratives have a beginning, middle and end, so I naturally want to see the beginning and the middle. Because of the way blogs work, my first click brings me in at the end. At first, I deleted that last thought, because unless somebody has died or very conclusively decided to blog no more, there is no real end. You come in somewhere amongst a hazy and structureless eternal middle. Then I put it back, deciding that, actually, you come in at a hazy and structureless eternal end. This is provided the writer a) is trying to make the fiction seem credible as a real blog and b) is any good at it. There are plenty of blog fiction writers, even those who are writing Blog Aware Blogfic (see Mineau's definitions), who just tell a serialised story cut into chunks, using the blog more as a publishing tool than a medium, and these lack a certain credibility. People use their blogs to reflect on their lives and relate recent events, not to serialise an ongoing narrative, and they certainly don’t leave cliff-hangers (unless a villain comes in mid-sentence and

Which isn’t a very effective way to create tension or curiosity, because it shatters the illusion that this is a real blogger trying to write about their life. If they got cut short in the middle of typing, who posted the entry? Real bloggers, and credible blog-fiction writers, write in self-contained episodes. The fact that those episodes may be referred back to in later self-contained episodes doesn’t make them a narrative middle, it makes those later episodes a form sequel. A Blogfic is a peculiar combination of novel and short story collection. It’s somewhat like a TV series, except that the episodes are less formulaic, or perhaps just have a more varied range of formulae. It is a type of epistolary form, obviously, but it has its own characteristics beyond this. For a start, it introduces a non-linear or multi-linear element to the narrative, even when it doesn’t intend to, by having choices of reading order inherent in the structure. The reader comes in at the end – that’s just how most blogging tools work – and probably reads the latest instalment before deciding whether they can be bothered to go back to the beginning and read from the start. Or they may choose to read it in reverse-chronological order, like Memento. Whichever they decide on, they may choose to keep reading this way, or if, like me, they have a short attention span and no self-control, they may get through the first (or last) few entries before getting distracted by the list of entry titles in the margin and randomly clicking on something that sounds interesting. If the author has been thoughtful enough to provide tags, that’s another way of navigating. If the Blogfic is multiple character, this adds even more possibilities. Do you read through each journal in turn, An Instance of the Fingerpost-style, or do you create a custom friends list and read all the characters’ blogs on a single friends page? Either way, do you read them forwards, backwards, randomly or tagwise? Does it matter?

I’ve come to the conclusion that due to the self-contained nature of each entry, it probably doesn’t. Even if you don’t read the cause before the effect, the effect will have evidence of the cause within itself, and when you later read the cause it will add to the effect retrospectively. I’ve been trying to think of narrative devices that only make sense when read in a certain order, but I’ve come to realise that actually I don’t need to be anywhere near that clever. Clues, whether detective-style or just ordinary narrative pointers, will work when the reader has read them all, no matter what order they are read in. This is not due to the cleverness of the author but the sophistication of the reader, who already recognises the possibilities being offered and the allowances being asked by this new medium.

A Blog Fiction narrative relies less on suspense and the gradual exposition of plot than on a knowledge of the facets of the characters and their relationships. While my fictional bloggers may well have the odd action-packed escape or conflict, when they write it up they won’t be aiming to entertain or excite (except one of them perhaps, but he’ll mostly be exaggerating). There certainly won’t be much true suspense, as the very fact that the character is blogging rather gives away the outcome of any perilous encounter. Blogs deal with mundanity, not adventure; the pleasure of reading a blog is in how interesting the character’s life is and how well they write about it, and the latter can easily make up for any lack of the former (though categorically not the other way around). I think the interesting thing about Bad Influences will not be in what the characters do, but in how it changes them, and the way they see themselves, each other and the world around them.

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