The Non-Aristotelian Drama and the Advantages Its Form Lends to Blog Fiction
This is, unusual for this blog, a post on writing, rather than a piece of fiction.
I love serials. I rarely watch TV that doesn’t have inter-episode continuity, but I have, on a number of occasions, begun watching a show after catching a few minutes of a mid-season episode.
I argue that a blog suffers from many of the problems that plagued early television; A person is about a dozen times more likely to start watching a show mid-season than to catch the first episode, therefore each episode must be, in some way, stand alone.
Enter Epic, or Non-Aristotelian Drama: as Alfred Döblin stated, Wikipedia quotes, and I paraphrase, an epic may be chopped into little pieces, reassembled, and the work will still function.
An initial statement: I believe, and it is at least true to my taste, that plot continuity, character growth, and linear narrative, may exist purely as nuance. By this I mean, any scene in an epic should stand alone, and be comprehensible unto itself, though, as is true in many epics and literary cycles, reading the whole body of work will give a more complete impression of the characters and a grasp on the time-line.
Take for example a revenge plot.
The protagonist might very well appear to be a cold blooded murderer, a one-dimensional psychopath, if we, the readers, aren’t informed of his motivations. One story might show us the end of his quest for revenge, while the preceding stories, if they are portrayed linearly, might show him grieving for his dead daughter while meeting her mother, long estranged, and the rekindling of their feelings. Another story, in the middle, might show us a conversation between the father and his daughter’s heroin addicted former boyfriend. These stories may be connected by nothing more than the name of the lead, but taken together they allow us to see many facets of one character.
Onto the advantage leant by this format. Short fiction, short-shorts or flash, is the obvious choice for a fiction blog, as most blog readers require small bites of content. A serialized novel is another, and I will tackle my opposition to this format first.
When I arrive at a blog and find chapter twenty-six of a serial novel facing me, my reaction is to give it a few paragraphs. Almost inevitably, the prose fails to hold my interest and I move on rather than seeking the first chapter, many pages deep. This is of course unfair. No one can create a hook at the start of every chapter, and I doubt a novel that attempted this would be palatable, but that is what would be required to overcome what is my natural tendency. Not every story has to start with a murder or explosion. Simply starting from the beginning is often enough to hook me.
On a momentary tangent, making the first chapter of a serial novel sticky seems like a good idea, maybe some people do this, but I haven’t run into it.
When I find a short fiction blog, I normally start by trying the top story, which would usually be the latest post. If I find this story is to my taste, I’ll try a few more, and follow. But, after a few weeks, standalone stories don’t stick in the front of my mind. I have to be in the right mood, and I slip, missing weeks at a time.
Finally. When very rarely I find a blogger who posts short fiction which is enjoyable, sufficiently standalone as to act as an introduction to their universe, while being part of a loosely knit whole, I dive pages deep. I read the author’s earlier works, and I look forward to their next post.
I believe my reading habits are motivated by simple psychology. Humans like to have their questions answered. The very first story on a blog in epic format might indeed be subtly answering questions posed in previous stories, while, for a first time reader, those answers might well seem like question themselves, waiting to be answered in the earlier stories.
Short fiction: self contained; no questions left unanswered by the last line, or there shouldn’t be.
Serial novel: utterly dependent upon preceding content; too many question generated to the point of incomprehensibility.
Epic: self contained, stand alone, to the point that it gives a sense of completion and catharsis, while leaving questions to draw me in.
This is, of course, just my opinion. Feel free to share yours.