questions about the death of the novel

There are writers who are still pissed off that the ebook ever happened. If you’re one of them, you probably shouldn’t read this post. It’ll only upset you. Because there are also writers who are already well over the ebook and looking for the next big thing. They think it’s our responsibility to find new and innovative ways to deliver fiction via digital platforms. These are the writers who say the novel is dying, and who want to be in the vanguard of the next big literary form.

See, for example, LitHacking, in which, potentially, a narrative is revealed to the reader via seemingly-genuine facebook updates, tweets, amazon reviews, the comments to blog posts and news articles, etc. See also The Silent History, which is advertised as ‘an entirely new kind of novel,’ though essentially, it’s just an ebook with optional ‘field reports’ that you can only release if you travel to the exact locations they’re set – in other words, an ordinary novel with some fancy/annoying add-ons.  And that’s about it, as far as examples go. And maybe that’s as far as they’ll ever go – but then again, maybe not.

Tech-savvy writers say the novel should be more interactive. (As if readers don’t already interact with novels.) But how interactive? When does a digital text stop being a story and start becoming a game? I would argue that LitHacking is a kind of game. The Silent History is a novel with a built-in game. And if that is where we’re heading, why this clinging to the old forms at all? Why not just say, the novel is dead – long live the computer game?

But there’s something else about these innovations that is less clearly understood, and that is how they blur the line between fiction and reality. Consider LitHacking. Not only does it create fake artefacts, but by doing so it calls into question the reality status of every other piece of text in its field. How would you know if a comment on a news article was a genuine opinion or a carefully placed clue in a puzzle? How would you interact with the internet if you were constantly unsure of the reality of what you were reading? LitHacking is ambitious, that’s for sure – take this logic to the extremes and you have a world wide web of fiction, with writers/hackers controlling everything from the sale of goods to the exchange of love letters.

A literary revolution, yes – perhaps more dramatic than any previously proposed. Its ultimate effect is to  make reality less trustworthy. In The Secret History, when you want to download a ‘field report’ you have to go to the exact location specified. You are physically completely interacting with the story in a real setting.This is not virtual reality. It’s difficult to know what’s real and what’s story if the story is taking place around you, outside your head and inside it at the same time.

And if that’s the case, how real are you, the reader? What happens to your ability to create and participate in the real world as a naive individual? When do you stop being a reader and start being a player? When do you start being a character? When does that begin to happen against your will? Or is it already happening? And what does that mean in terms of your capabilities and responsibilities?

But there’s something else that goes beyond this. Not only does this make reality less real, but by blurring the boundaries of story/reality, it makes fiction less fictional. The project of fiction has historically been to increase, deepen, intensify and enlighten reality. It has made us more human, connected us to the real world outside of our heads, shown us the reality of other humans who exist or existed before us. By forcing fiction into existing reality, do we run the risk of losing that expansionist vision of what stories are for? Do we ruin stories by making everything a story?

This all seems very avant-garde, but advertisers already use the internet in much the same way that LitHackers propose writers should: creating fake reviews for books and products, using comments to push sales, creating youtube videos in the hope that they’ll go viral. What’s to stop advertisers intervening in LitHack narratives in order to promote their products? What’s to stop businesses setting up shop in the exact locations where readers congregate to download ‘field reports’? And when does this complicated exchange go too far? Will writers be pushed aside by salespeople? And is there anything in these new forms – any idea of artistry, politics, reality – that can protect us from that?


The internet is depressing. I know so much stuff right now that I really wish I didn’t. Every morning I wake up to stories of economic disaster, poverty, death, systemic violence against females, war, injustice… It’s not that I don’t want to know what’s going on in the world, more that I don’t want to be immersed in the worst of it from morning til night. A part of me actually feels guilty for not spending 100% of my time staring this stuff in the face, as if that would change any part of it, or help me, or anyone. It just makes me bloody miserable, that’s all.

The other depressing thing about the internet is the fact that it provides an infinitely deep pool of mindless distractions, perhaps to counterbalance the constant stream of bad news and misery. So you read the news and blogs about what terrible things are happening, and it’s so awful you have to go and stare at pictures of cute kittens for half an hour, just to give you the energy to face the rest of the day.

Before I had broadband internet access, I never once went to the library to look at pictures of cats. If you had told me then that I would one day spend literal hours of my life reading articles about films I had no intention of ever seeing, or that I’d seek out and watch a video about how pencils are made, I would have laughed in your face. Actually, that pencil video is pretty interesting. But the point remains.

A while ago, I paid money for a program (Freedom) which enables me to turn off my internet and stops me from turning it back on until I’ve finished my work. That is a great program, but seriously? What kind of weak-minded person has to be physically restrained from checking facebook? When she’s supposed to be doing her life’s work? There is clearly something wrong with me.

So I’ve decided to take drastic measures, and ditch broadband. I’m moving cities soon, and whatever kind of new place I find myself living in, it’s not going to have constant internet access. I reckon that if I have to buy a cup of coffee every time I want to check my emails, my internet use is going to become a lot more focused and efficient. Either that, or I will become a caffeine-crazed, broke, non-writing writer, who spends all her time in cafes looking at lolcats and having palpitations. I’m willing to take my chances.



I started using Scrivener a couple of days ago.  It is pretty impressive! By the end of this morning I had managed to create a full scene outline of my novel, import everything I’d already written, and start making a synopsis. It makes it easy to structure your work, because you can split it into folders and files without you having to open different documents – and you can also view it as one long document if you prefer. You get a good overall view of the big picture of your novel, and at the same time, you can go into detail on whichever part you want.

I’m surprised at how much I like this. I always thought that outlining was incredibly boring (but total pantsering really scary!) Now I think it was just the idea of one, long, linear document that I couldn’t handle. With Scrivener, it’s all hypertext – you can go wherever you like, but still keep your place.

I don’t know if it will help make sense of what is a rather muddled mess at the moment, but every time I open my project file, I have a sense of calm clarity about what I’m doing. Not to say it’s good or bad – but at least I’m not panicking about it!

Is anyone else using this software? Would love to know what you think.

we have the technology

Remind me again why I wanted to be The Daily George? The last couple of days have been crazy hectic, and my head is full of all sorts of stuff, most of which is not really bloggable. Blogging every day is great fun, but I may have to reel it in after December. Twice a week?

I realised today that if I put my headphones in whilst I’m walking to work, people will assume I’m talking to someone on the phone, rather than talking to myself.  (I am actually talking to myself. Quite loud.) I find it helps to talk through story problems – it would probably be even better there was more than just one person in the conversation, but even so. I can’t imagine anyone else would want to listen.

I also need to find out if I can record my one-sided conversations on my phone. Today I plotted out a good quarter of a novel, but I’m not sure how much of that I’m going to be able to recall once I finally get to my writing time tonight.

Et vous? Do you use any smart technology to help your writing or writing process? Or is it pen and paper all the way?