Last time, we discussed how different the novel might become – for writers and readers – if we start thinking in terms of writing for digital media instead of the printed page.
I’d be astonished in this didn’t result in a whole new way of entertaining people with stories eventually. Which way will it go? Some writers will surely work with creators of other digital content – artists, musicians, programmers – combining their creative skills. Another route will be writers who exploit technology to create a new kind of interactive experience with the reader. And then there will be the wordsmiths, people who still rely on old-fashioned tale-telling, but find ways to do it differently in digital form.
There’s also likely to be a much closer bond between writer and reader. As I wrote The Lebanese Troubles, I was privileged to work with a group of writers – some very experienced, some just beginning – at the author workshop site, The Next Big Writer. When we completed a chapter, we posted it for others to read and comment. Some reviewers acted as editors: they trapped errors and inconsistencies. Others read and left just a brief comment. But what I loved best of all was the group of fellow-writers who became emotionally involved in the story.
Emotional response became my litmus test. I wanted my readers to forget editing because they were having so much fun with the story. I wanted to know which characters they loved, liked or hated. I wanted to see if I could make them switch allegiances. When they guessed what might happen next, I wanted them to be wrong – but never to hear that the story was unbelievable. When I experimented with style, I wanted them not to notice. And I wanted the word to get around – that here was a story worth reading – to keep the readership steadily growing.
This incredible experience was like performing at a live event with the crowd’s support ringing in your ears. What you’re hearing is gut reaction. Applause for a great pass, a gasp as a character takes a (metaphorical) crunching tackle. Catcalls when you screw up. And pandemonium when there’s a touchdown.
Print writers never have any of that. They just get to read the match report the next day. Usually dispassionate, measured, analytical. I’m not saying that reviews aren’t important too, but when you’re a performer, you never forget the passion of the live audience.
But let’s remember this was a special circumstance. It wasn’t such a large crowd: we were playing behind closed doors at TNBW. Is it possible to maintain this rapport between readers and writer in the real world? Honestly? I don’t know – and won’t till I have a few more thousand readers. We certainly wouldn’t be able to use the TNBW way, where I responded to each individual reviewer.
But what we’re going to do – if you’re OK with this – is to try a live exercise now. In a moment I’m going to direct you to an extract from The Lebanese Troubles. It’s a scene where I’m deliberately experimenting with style, trying to take advantage of digital presentation and formatting. I’m not going to tell you any more than that now, but I will ask a few questions at the end of the extract, designed to get you thinking.
In the course of the next few days, I’d love you to post at the end of the extract any reactions or questions or complaints or criticisms you have. Anything that spurs you to write a few words. Let’s see how this develops into a conversation between readers and writer. And in about a week’s time, let’s take stock and consider what we’ve learnt – me included.
Are you ready for the jump. Here we go! (Or you can click on Writing Samples => The English Language Teacher.)