New Ways We Tell Stories

This article was written by Joseph Dante.

Independent bookstores are vanishing. Print magazines are going. Publishing itself is rapidly transforming and publishers are struggling to adapt to a very new and very strange literary culture: a hybrid beast that is finding itself trapped between the virtual world and the flesh-and-blood tactile one.

Due to the strange chimera that is the current publishing landscape, we are seeing more and more upcoming innovative projects through which writers are trying to tell their stories.

Here are some you may want to take the time to explore yourself:

Online serial novels and magazines

While episodic fiction via print publications is nothing new, the internet has attracted more writers to post chapters to blogs or magazines in palatable, bite-sized chunks. Feeds allow us to update our subscribers about the subsequent new chapters that get published, which makes keeping track of things even easier. Sometimes these stories follow some kind of collective theme in order to introduce even more relevant writers to the mix or encourage reader participation. Due to the explosion in popularity of smart phones, tablets, and e-readers, writers are also transferring their works onto mobile devices for convenience (via Wattpad, for example), which are then able to be carried around and consumed on a commute to work or whenever more busybody readers get a minute to sit down quietly and breathe.

I’ve written an online fiction collection myself, which was aptly titled Letters for Burning. While no longer available online, it all started in the form of a simple blog in order to motivate myself to write more regularly. All I really expected was a few friends to stumble by and read the pieces on occasion. Instead, it ended up turning into a novel-in-stories. By the end of the project, I’d written a hundred of these “letters” (some were letters, but many were also short stories or more experimental in-betweens) over a year and well beyond 100,000 words. What started first as a simple means of meditation ended up also as a vehicle for communication: I managed to establish an audience, find more likeminded writers, and even forge some long-lasting friendships in the process.

We also have great literary hubs cropping up that try to combine everything together by publishing essays, fiction, and interviews all exclusively online. There are places such as the Millions, the Rumpus, the Nervous Breakdown, or the online magazine I read for, Hobart. Print anthologies for newer literary magazines are now becoming the alternative, not the other way around. Literary Orphans and FRiGG, for example, also use more visual elements, blending unique multimedia experiences that only online spaces can allow. More writers are also establishing their voices via websites or personal blogs, which sometimes then turn into book deals. Writer Kate Zambreno, author of the critical memoir Heroines, is a great example of this. Many writer friends of mine recommended her book on female figures in modernism from their own blogs and I am excited to read it soon. Stories are going beyond just the page and beyond just the dusty journal we’d otherwise keep to ourselves.

Interactive fiction and games

Last month, I read Rise of the Videogame Zinesters by Anna Anthropy, a book that serves as a personal manifesto and a call-to-arms for writers and fledgling game creators. Ms. Anthropy wants people to create more video games regardless of whether or not the creators themselves know anything about the technical side of game design or programming. She wants people to experiment and get messy. She also believes it is especially important for creators to craft more personal narratives that might be otherwise overlooked in the games industry, such as experiences that are unique to women and sexual minorities.

As it turns out, there are plenty of easy ways to create your very own game online and with very little effort. There are programs you can download like Twine, which is an easy-to-use tool used to generate a “choose your own adventure” type story. If you know a little more about HTML or web design, you can also get more sophisticated with photos, audio, and other media. A recent game that has come out of this process is Depression Quest, which provides a poignant day-to-day account of what it’s like living with depression. Your choices influence the trajectory of the narrative and how characters react to your behavior. But what is even more interesting is how the lack of certain choices in the story conveys the truly paralyzing effects depression can have on a person’s thoughts and subsequent decisions.

There are also other programs such as Inkle. Check out First Draft of the Revolution by Emily Short and Liza Daly, an interactive fiction game that involves the act of rewriting letters in order to change the course of the story. You may also want to keep your eyes peeled on the upcoming project, Versu. There are a lot of exciting things happening today not only in publishing, but in gaming culture as well.

Interactive videos

Online video watching and streaming has very nearly replaced traditional television for me and I’m sure I’m not alone in this. As another means of consuming and creating media, it would make sense that creative people would also try to make use of its unique potential as a storytelling outlet as well. Just as an example, here is Haircut by Neil Cicierega, a humorous and whimsical story-in-videos. Clicking on the annotations links to other videos, which continues the story.

Listerature

Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad is an interesting experiment with form. Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, one of the stories in her collection even includes a PowerPoint presentation. Similarly, another experimental story she wrote, “To Do,” is in the form of a list. Inspired by stories like these, online literary magazine Little Fiction (touting itself as the mp3s of stories) has begun publishing what it calls “listerature,” compilations of story-in-lists from various upcoming fiction writers. Listerature is just another way in which we are redefining what stories can be.

Concept albums

A concept album allows an overarching narrative to be told through music. Sometimes there are recurring themes or images, sometimes there are songs that bleed into each other. While not a brand new idea entirely, the advent of popular tablets and handheld devices has given more space for the concept album to grow. There is, for example, Björk’s latest album, Biophilia, which incorporates apps for the iPad in a multimedia collaboration. Another recent example is the very colorful and sprawling album the ArchAndroid by Janelle Monáe. Fusing elements from a wide variety of music genres, from pop to soul to electronic, we are introduced to a pulsing, futuristic world through the lyrics and unique sounds. But the story doesn’t end there: through her online presence and her music videos, we are further introduced to her fictional persona, Cindi Mayweather, an android that’s on the run because she happened to fall in love with a man named Anthony Greendown. This adds even more layers to the story she has created and truly, the album ends up feeling almost like a science fiction novel itself.

What new fiction outlets have you discovered?

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Joseph Dante is a writer from South Florida. His work has been featured in Monkeybicycle, Pear Noir!, Vector Press, and elsewhere. He keeps a blog at josephdante.com. You can follow him on Twitter @storyforburning.

Photo: Some rights reserved by Cyron.

10 Replies to “New Ways We Tell Stories”

  1. Great, as always, Joseph.

    I used to love Duotrope, as a means of finding new journals (that even proposed new ‘ways’ of telling stories) – even if I never planned on submitting to them. Now, though, as you know, it has become a paid subscription service. Which is a total bummer. I understand they need money, just like the rest of the world, but as a fledgling writer, I tend to feel a bit hopeless sometimes and don’t know where to find resources in order to find new journals and new fiction outlets. This article, though, might be tremendously helpful to fellow writers.

    (Sidebar: the journals you mentioned, though, are the best. Working with Little Fiction was a highlight of my writing career and, one of these days, I hope Troy publishes one of your stories! The ‘mp3-of stories’ idea, you have to admit, is pretty brilliant.)

    Also, on a somewhat related note, I just picked up David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary (http://www.amazon.com/Lovers-Dictionary-Novel-David-Levithan/dp/1250002354) which to me is a totally unique way of writing a story. I wanted to tell you about it a few ago, but I keep forgetting. So, I am glad you wrote this, so that I could mention it.

    x

    1. Angela!

      I’ve actually expressed my grief to Duotrope about this via Twitter before. It’s kind of ridiculous how they just shut everyone out of their accounts like that and now expect us to pay that much every year. Maybe if it were half that price, that would be more reasonable. It just isn’t worth that much, I’m sorry.

      Little Fiction is the best. I love what they’re doing. I do plan on sending something along to them in the future!

      I knew about Levithan, but haven’t read that one yet. I really loved The Realm of Possibility though, which also experiments with the form in an interesting way.

  2. This is a great overview of new ways of telling stories. I was intrigued by listerature and appreciate the link you provided. It’s totally new to me, but I can see possibilities.

    1. Thanks, Anita! I love the new ways people have been getting creative with the form, especially in response to how the publishing landscape is changing so rapidly (digitally) as well.

  3. Thanks, Anita! I love the new ways people have been getting creative with the form, especially in response to how the publishing landscape is changing so rapidly (digitally) as well.

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