Friday, May 02, 2008

Questions Relating to Web-based Serial Fiction

Why is it web-comics rather than web-fiction?

Is that what fanfiction is? The text-only equivalent of webcomics?

People like funny stuff. Is funny easier to do with a visual medium?

People like pretty things. But one of the most popular webcomics out there is xkcd, and Penny Arcade was popular even before it looked awesome. (Of course, back then, Penny Arcade had a lot less competition.)

Is pure text fiction significantly harder to serialize than a comic strip? The only serialized fiction I know of is Othar Tryggvassen's Twitter. (By which I am fascinated, as previously discussed.) There has to be something else like that out there.

Does anyone blog fiction? There's Banter Latte and Short Little Stories, (both, oddly, by comics bloggers, at Websnark and Damn Good Comics, respectively) but that's not quite what I mean.

Webcomics, at least the serious/story variety, tell a continuing story over a series of installments. Does anyone use blogs to do a similar thing?

Does anyone read them?

(I would mention Doctor Cataclysm, but that's clearly not fiction.)


  1. I'll try to hit these in order.

    Web-comics almost always refer to comics on the web. If there are not sequential pictures, then it's not a comic.

    While web-comics are certainly a species of web-fiction, like squares are a species of rectangle, the descriptor "web-comic" is a lot more precise, since it implies art.

    Fanfiction can be comics or text or video or audio. But it must be amateur fiction involving commercial intellectual property. In other words, if you tell a story about how Harry Potter spent his summer vacation between books 2 and 3, that's fanfiction. If you tell the story of a character in the Harry Potter universe that never showed up in any of the books, that's usually also considered fanfiction. Telling a story in a completely original world with completely original characters isn't fan fiction. As an example, Girl Genius as written and drawn by the Phoglio's isn't fanfiction. If, however, I write a story taking place in that universe, or with those characters, that would be fanfiction. If the Phoglio's paid me to write such a story, it would no longer be fanfiction, because fanfiction implies amateur work done merely out of love for the characters and setting.

    I find funny very hard to do in any medium.

    Beautiful art can help to tell a story, but it's not nearly as important as having something to communicate with your audience. The most famous non-web comics all had very simple art: Peanuts, Calving & Hobbes, and Dilbert. What you have to communicate is far, far more important than how you do it.

    Pure text isn't harder to serialize, but it's harder to get readers. The reason is fairly simple. If you throw up a web-comic, I can tell at a glance if I want to keep reading it. That one glance will often tell me a ton of information: genre, themes, style, and mood. To get the same information from text, I actually have to read it, and I might have to read a handful of paragraphs before I know for certain if I want to keep reading. Which means that, unless I'm stuck at my computer and can't get away for some reason, I'm not likely to bother to invest that sort of time. Also, a lot of people don't like reading lots of text on their computer.

    Does that help?

    - Brian

  2. Oh, and I have heard of folks using blogs to tell stories, run RPGs, and all sorts of other things, but I don't have much direct experience with that sort of thing myself.

    - Brian

  3. Yeah, that pretty much covers it. Mostly what I was thinking of, when referring to webcomics vs. fanfiction, was the communities around them--there seems to be a distinct community around comics, and a distinct community around text-based fan-fiction. It's still not a particularly good analogy, and there are a lot of sub groups within each that make such neat comparisons unreliable.

    Speed of evaluation is a pretty crucial point. Hmm. It sets the mind to thinking.

  4. Speed of evaluation is a pretty crucial point. Hmm. It sets the mind to thinking.

    Doesn't it? This is why I think publishers will have a place in the future of literature, even if it does go all-digital. We'll want some mechanism for winnowing the wheat from the chaff. Right now, that's publishers. I'm far more likely to read a free digital offering from Baen or Tor than I am a random short story on Deviant Art. I simply don't have the time to go cruising the net reading random chapters, even though I know it means I'm missing some great writing.

    - Brian