The Novel World of Digital Storytelling

The Novel World of Digital Storytelling
Wednesday, May 6, 2009, 4:00 – 5:15 PM
Massachusetts Library Association Annual Conference
Springfield, Massachusetts

Program Description : The digital world is a literary playground. Japanese schoolgirls tap out stories on their cell phones and end up on the bestseller list; blog novels become the new serial fiction; fictional universes cross the boundaries of media and jump from canon to fan fiction; Machinima turns gaming into digital puppetry, and new fictional forms emerge on every social media site including Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, as the digital and literary worlds collide.

Fan Fiction

Fan fiction isn’t really new — its roots go back to folk literature and the oral tradition. The web has just made it much easier for people to form flourishing participatory communities of interest to share their work.

“Scarcely had Arthur Conan Doyle begun publishing his tales of the deductive detective when an avid fan base sprang up, the first of a new breed of followers. These early Sherlockians weren’t content simply to read the books. They wanted to enter the world Conan Doyle had created, puppeteer his characters, and design their own mysteries for Holmes to solve…They wrote stories. Lots of them.” [Scott Brown]

“Contemporary Web culture is the traditional folk process working at lightning speed on a global scale. The difference is that our core myths now belong to corporations, rather than the folk.” [Henry Jenkins]

From Blog to Book

Blogging can give writers a way to get more experience and attract a following, and may lead to a published book.

  • Mom’s Cancer — In 2004, Brian Fies began writing a web comic about his mother’s battle against lung cancer. “Mom’s Cancer” won the 2005 Eisner Award for the Best Digital Comic, and in 2006 the comic was released as a book by Abrams.
  • Anonymous Lawyer: From Blog to Book — In 2004, Jeremy Blachman, a third-year Harvard Law School student, began writing a blog in the voice of a senior partner at prestigious law firm. The blog became so popular that it became the basis for Blachman’s first novel.

Extending a Book

Here are a few ways that authors and others are using social networking tools to promote a book or present it in a different way.

Brevity is Wit

Twitter, texting and other communications technologies can be used as a creative medium for individual or collaborative work.


  • What is Machinima? — A machinima film introducing the basic concepts of making machinima using the variety of settings and resources in Grand Theft Auto San Andreas
  • Jabberwocky — A machinima version of Lewis Carroll’s poem made in Second Life

Oral History

  • Depression Memories on Video — My blog post about two projects to capture personal stories of life in the Great Depression : The New Hard Times from the New York Times, and Depression Cooking with Clara on YouTube

In Conclusion…

“I know only one thing about the technologies that await us in the future: We will find ways to tell stories with them.” Jason Ohler

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