Over the last few days I’ve been pondering where narrative might go next, as a result of an interesting news story and a rather lovely website I came across the other day. So first of all, the news story, from the Sidney Morning Herald, which tells us how:
‘Remarkably, half of Japan’s top-10 selling works of fiction in the first six months of the year were composed the same way – on the tiny handset of a mobile phone. They sold an average of 400,000 copies. By August, the president of Goma Books, Masayoshi Yoshino, was declaring in a manifesto that he was determined “to establish this not simply as a fad, but as a new kind of culture”.’
Once you get past the harrumphing of the literary establishment (‘no character development… not real writing’, etc), two fascinating thoughts emerge.
First of all, these novels were originally serialised in a very direct to the reader way. Assuming mobile phone novels take off as a novel reading medium, does that mean we’ll see a resurgence of that very direct reader / writer relationship built up by Victorian serialists like Charles Dickens? And will that kind of very engaged relationship be further encouraged by the way in which both digital entertainments and online fan networks have greatly heightened expectations of how interactive such narratives should be?
In both cases I suspect that the answer is yes – which could well make the act of writing itself much more dynamic and responsive, moving it closer to performance than it has been for a long time.
Secondly, mobile phones aren’t just for writing on – you can take pictures with them, record film and sound, attach music to the resulting presentations, etc. I think it won’t be long before mobile phone generated narratives step away from being just text based, becoming something much more multimedia.
That, combined with full usage of the possibilities of digital interactivity, will lead to the creation of artworks at once far more diffuse and far more immersive than traditional prose works have been. The reader / viewer / listener will be encouraged to play an active part in shaping the narrative, picking and choosing from banks of words, sounds and images to create a very personal interpretation of the story they’re engaged with.
I’m sure people are doing that kind of thing already – and in fact, here’s a purely visual example, that website I mentioned, courtesy of PFSK. It’s a bank of images created during an Inupiat Eskimo whale hunt in Alaska, by unclassifiable maven Jonathan Harris. You can search through the images in multiple different ways, assembling groups that focus on characters, location, theme, mood and so on – focussing on whatever takes your fancy, and assembling a narrative of the hunt accordingly. Is it the future of narrative in general? Maybe so…