Dancing to Dirges

Depressing and happy things Tim says, sometimes while drunk

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

I'm just a man with a steel guitar, a Lit degree and a busted car.

I'm not really. I'm not what you'd call musically inclined. Anyway, here's this week's hair picture. This is taken minutes before I walk out the door for work. I think you can tell that by my air of grim determinism. Plus my shirt just screams "WORLD BEATER!" Right? That's a shirt for worldbeaters. That's what I'm saying.

To continue the thread from the comments on the last post: repackaging fiction for the internet age. I'm going to spin a little scenario that been crawling around in my head most of the day. Think of fiction like music. The first and most important barrier we have to getting people to consume fiction online is time commitment. How long does it take to read a story? Depends, I suppose, but let's say ten minutes. That's about five times longer than most people are willing to sit still online, especially for text. People who are already hardcore readers might do it, hence the success of Strange Horizons, but I'm not interested in those people. More accurately, I'm not interested in *just* those people. I want online fiction to become a broad phenomenon, not just the transference of RL readers to VR readers.

So, we shoot for two minutes. How do we deliver the product. There are a lot of ways to do it, given the many magical things provided by the internet. Some kind of multimedia/flash/spoken word/animation *thing* that none of us will be able to define until we see it. Sort of a choose your own adventure/graphical interface/game but really a story but it's like a game. You could probably squeeze more than two minutes out of the reader, if you're actively engaging them in the process. So that's one way to present fiction.

Another, easier format is audio. That you'd need to keep to two minutes. And I'm talking two minutes per consumer-ready-chunk. The CRC. You can string a whole bunch of CRCs together to tell a single story, then each CRC would need to be self-sustaining. Kind of like comics. Kind of like songs.

Imagine that. If authors produced albums instead of books. Record ten or so CRCs, then release them serially. You could have podcasts, collecting your favorite stories from five or so different authors, updated weekly. Some telling the story in serial, and some just random samples from favorites, to give the listener a feel for the author. You would need pretty wide participation by lots of different authors to make this work, of course. And that will take time, and people will resist it.

Still. It's an idea. Authors, think of yourself as musicians. Your book is an album, and serials are your songs.


At 12:29 PM , Blogger ArkanGL said...

I agree with all the above.

Things need to be really short and episodic.
Audio anables the reading to happen as a background task, which is even more convenient.

At 12:52 PM , Blogger Splitcoil said...

Here I come to poke holes...

I'm more of a musician than a writer, so thinking of serials as songs should appeal to me, right? But it doesn't, really. There are many problems with this approach. Let's stick with the most basic problem: nothing much can happen in a story in two minutes. I've written a really crackin' two minute song or two, but I'm afraid I'd be incapable of reliably producing a series of two minute stories that would keep a reader interested.

Let's look at just the BREAK TO BIND installments that I've recorded readings for. Hazardous Materials is 1050 words. Very little happens, and it's a 6m44s audio recording, with only minimal dead space for theme music at each end. Zoinks.

Now I've written plenty of little snippets that could be read in two minutes, but they don't add up to a story. I think trying to force your work into such a structure is probably way more than can be asked.

And think about the continuity problems for the reader/listener! He listens for two minutes, then waits three to seven days for his next two-minute installment. Is he supposed to remember who the characters are, or what's going on? It seems unlikely that he will.

That said, I think that the audio bit does help things along. I don't think every installment should be the length of a punk song, though. Music fans are generally happy to get not just one two-minute clip from a band they like, but maybe three or four good songs at a time. Less than an album's worth, but more than a Sex Pistols song's worth. So let's say 8-12 minutes. In the age of ipods, 8-12 minutes of listening is not difficult at all to fit into your day. I could do at least twice that on my commute each day, each way.

I think two minutes is a deal breaker on too many levels. Maybe we Deadchannelers just need to get off our asses and record more readings.

At 2:05 PM , Blogger colin said...

I think SC has a lot of good points. Actually, I think that the problem is more how to get the person to sit still for the first two minutes, and then stay to read the rest. The stories I have read online (and the longer videos or songs for that matter) are the ones that hooked me and got me to sit there. Then I keep coming back. It's actually a lot like what you need to do for a magazine or a book, except it is easier to give up on a story online than either of those other things. The barriers that prevent a person from giving up on your story are lower online.

I actually think that Mr. Klima really hit it when he mentioned that people just don't go online looking for fiction. They go looking for music, or comics, and these days video, but that's because if they go looking they know they will find something. The thing that the internet does well is network effects: make so much stuff available than everybody can find something they want. There probably just isn't enough (good) fiction online to start people looking for it.

That one place you can go where you can be sure to find the thing you're after, or lack thereof, might also have something to do with it. Maybe we are still in the period of fiction bubbling along under the radar, waiting for our YouTube or MySpace. On the other hand, comics and to some extent music do pretty well in a more distributed fashion. In which case I'd say what we need is more good fiction online and linked together.

Ah, I'm rambling and repeating myself. Mr. Klima's probably right about another thing too: it's going to take years and a lot of hard work by whoever makes it go, and probably a lot of broken spirits for the people who try and don't succeed.

At 2:06 PM , Blogger colin said...

I wish this damn comment system had an edit function.

At 2:10 PM , Blogger Tim Akers said...

Well, it doesn't. Suck it up.

I don't have everything full formed in my head, yet. Just wanted to thank everyone for posting, and the discussion shall continue.

At 2:47 PM , Blogger Fashionpolice said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 2:48 PM , Blogger Fashionpolice said...

Your hair has a nice length there, Tim. :)

At 3:20 PM , Blogger Eric said...

As a reader of the Dead Channel, the small excerpts and short stories from "Write Something Now" were what grabbed my attention enough to check the Dead Channel out. Most of my internet time is short breaks at work and at home when child is playing or sleeping; so, everything is usually quick scans for attention grabbers. Splitcoil's interrogation character development technique in the Break to Bind serial grabbed my attention. Here are the characters that you'll be watching; here's what they can do; here's a little background for each; and now, here are some scenes. Reminded me of both a comic book and and old-time radio show but in pure text. Colin is definitely on with the 2 minute attention grabber but the actual text needs to be longer. We'll come back if it grabbed our attention. I mean the text hopefully won't disappear. I think a lot of people are limited to the scan. And if they aren't limited to it they are geared for it. VH1 short attention span generation. Products of the Cut-up BabyBoomers. Surfers.

At 3:27 PM , Blogger Eric said...

Sorry left out the most important part. The length should be 15 minutes for each excerpt (read time or listen time which is almost the same for a slow reader like me).

At 5:32 PM , Blogger Marshdrifter said...

Part of the problem is the computer isn't a very text friendly device. Pictures work great (especially moving ones) and sound works great, but words... not so much.

At 6:55 PM , Blogger Justy said...

I agree and disagree with Marshdrifter about text on a computer. Computers can be great for composition, but are definitely less so for reading (where is that printer stylesheet for DeadChannel?). That said, hooks are everything, like colin and eric say. I'm not sure there's much you can do beyond developing a sort of hyper-compressed genre of storytelling... but then that's not exactly what we're after, is it?

Or is it? I can perhaps see the development of a micro-fiction practice (like those six-word SF stories), but to what extent would those fulfill the main objects of a story? Could they efficiently get stitched together over time into serials? I have a hunch that this would be more difficult than taking an existing work and parting it out in to two-to-three paragraph chunks.

So, anyway, that's one option. Over on the WGB, Hasa mentioned that reading/listening to a story requires attention in a way that even listening to music doesn't. You can tune out music and still get some content, or you can pay close attention. Getting anything out of a story without paying even just enough to get plot out of it requires a good deal of attention, especially if we take the idea that reading is never actually passive into consideration.

Heck, even watching TV isn't entirely passive.

Hope that wasn't too repetitive of what those who've gone before me have said.

At 8:01 PM , Blogger colin said...

I think Hasa might be right about the people thing, too. That is, people are the best way to draw people into checking out the site. Obviously the continuous presence of all of us Dead Channelers on the WGB has helped bring readers to DC. I dare say it is almost the only thing that has brought readers to DC.

So, do we need to have more personality? More interaction? Less of a collection of stories with a little 'news' bar, and more like a blog or three, with stories attached? (Just thinking out loud.)

I've been thinking of trying to do more illustrations and comic strips as a way to pull people into the site. Visual stuff can, I think, perk people's interest so they check out the words. But that would require me to have more talent, and more time.

Oh yeah, you should turn on the anonymous comments too, to let Hasa and his ilk have their say. As long as you leave the verification thingy on you shouldn't be too troubled by spamvertisers.

At 8:09 PM , Blogger Marshdrifter said...

Viral advertising?

Or you could just be patient and let the word get out naturally.

At 6:45 AM , Blogger Tim Akers said...

I like Colin's idea about three blogs with story links. But do we have time for that? I mean, I've only recently started maintaining this blog with any consistency, and who knows how long that'll last?

It sounds like the best approach may be recording the serials we've already posted, then maybe podcasting them out into the wide, wide world.

At 7:08 AM , Anonymous Hasa said...

Here is what I posted elsewhere that people referred to:

I don't think there is anything but the story to grab people's attention. And there is nothing like the person to get that attention in the first place. I followed the writers to the Dead Channel and it actually took some time to hook me. Audio would be icing on the cake but not really a better way to promote the product at least not for me because I need to concentrate on spoken word. Everything I might do beside listening has to be less brain-taxing. I can't read or write while listening to spoken word.

At 7:19 AM , Anonymous Hasa said...

The idea of beefing the Dead Channel up might raise attention. Audio and visual stuff are easier ways to hook people. But people still have to go there in the first place. I would be interested to know how many people visit the DC after each new installment.

At 7:22 AM , Anonymous Hasa said...

I forgot (twice) to thank Tim for opening the discussion for people who are not natural joiner. In retrospect I probably should have joined to be protected from identity theft.


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