by John Gross
Throughout time technology has changed how the writer crafts his novel. From pen and paper, to typewriters, to word processing—the tools of the trade are constantly evolving. In today’s world, the writer can craft a sentence and move it around to different places, supplementing paragraphs where he sees fit. This can be a powerful tool, that makes the revision process more fluid and dynamic. An author can be less committed to putting something on a page, where it can be easily reshaped, moved, and removed. While this technology has fundamentally changed how the novelist crafts his work, it hasn’t really changed how the reader consumes it. Sure, we are in a period of time that is showing the rise of e-readers and digital print, but ultimately the novel is being experienced in the same traditional way.
This seems to be the course for the future as well, though some authors are experimenting in unique ways by incorporating different forms of media into their work, giving it an added layer of depth and immersion. Technology has become so powerful that it can map your exact location, combine words and pictures in new ways, and allow the reader to actually interact with the platform they are reading on. An interesting example of this is The Silent Story. The book plays out on your iPad as you read, but there is an interesting component to it: some parts of the story are only accessible if you are in the right location. For example, one might travel to the middle of a field to an abandoned barn. Your iPad would then unlock a story that takes place there, giving you this surreal feeling of immersion. Another interesting component is that these stories are submitted by readers as “Field Reports.” Information about this is found inside the app for those interested in participating. This allows the world of the story to constantly evolve and expand. The field reports are suppose to be from different perspectives so having different writers write them in areas they are familiar with is a fantastic way to make this feel authentic. Not only does this novel present itself in a way that will be unique to each reader, it also engages each reader to contribute in a way particular to them. This is one unique example of how technology has shaped a story, and what is most exciting is that the technology can be built around what the story needs.
Imagine if J. R. R. Tolkien released the classic The Lord of the Rings novels today. Instead of reading the traditional paper copy, imagine an interactive version where you can pull up a detailed map of Middle Earth at any time. Maybe it even changes depending on what page you are on, showing where the characters are and how far they have traveled, or where the other parts of the fellowship are at that time versus their companions. Tolkien’s novel include intricate fictional working languages as well. An interactive text could have the Elven tongue and the reader could click on it and pull up a translation page to learn the language. The ability to simply click on names and places and have the backstory pop up, allowing the reader to learn more about the world they are in as they go, would be incredibly exciting.
Now, do I think the multimedia approach should become the standard of all novels? Of course not, but this is something that has to be explored. It might not always be appropriate, but in the correct circumstances it could add new layers to storytelling. Multimedia novels are a fascinating idea and authors are only scratching the surface of potential. As always, people are afraid of change. Those established in the field don’t want to alter how they do things, especially when multimedia projects are changing the way a story is told.
An author may not be a photographer, a programmer, a graphic designer; a novel is often written by a person, and then revised by an editor. A multimedia piece may demand collaboration, which changes what many are used to. This is why I think we are far from this becoming common. The novel is sacred, and some may view this evolution as taking away the literary merit. In order for multimedia literature to succeed, it needs to earn its credit, and while there are many interesting pieces already, we haven’t seen one captivate larger audiences. What’s exciting is that people have begun experimenting with different ways to present their stories, and I think we will continue to see different approaches in the coming years. It will be interesting to see how these things are accepted and if we see a shift from the traditional novel in the future.