'Writing created for a digital space'
Late in her review of The Pickle Index for The FutureBook, Ami Greko tells us that Eli Horowitz and Russell Quinn (who, as Sudden Oak, also produced The Silent History) have given us another case in which the writing that forms the narrative spine of this new digital interactive storytelling "book-and-app-novel isn't all that it could be. Greko writes:
Curiously, I wonder if it's hardcover and paperback readers who feel they've been cheated. Ultimately, the writing wasn't quite strong enough to be what pulled me back into the app—I went to see if anything unusual would happen next in the telling. Reading the story from cover to cover, I'm sure I would have walked away much earlier. It’s a common problem with writing created for a digital space, and one I’m usually quite suspicious of the creators as being able to fix.
For purposes of her review, she read only the app version of The Pickle Index, and found it lacking enough to wonder if those reading the book version might be satisfied. Greko, managing the Penguin Random House UK Author Portal, is hardly a stranger to the work of good writers, and clearly feels she's seen something different in the case of this new effort in transmedial storytelling.
It's a good issue for our discussion today in #FutureChat, not least because it gets at one of the themes we heard a week ago in The FutureBook 2015 Conference here in London, the dynamic that Faber's Stephen Page called "not book."
In his look-back at the conference, my colleague Philip Jones writes of the importance of looking for what might be "not book" in the shape of the day at FutureBook:
The day consisted of examples of new businesses, new approaches, and new content-types that should redefine what we think of publishing today. The industry — from Mr Quin to Game of Thrones, from Lost My Name to Touchpress — is already doing things differently.
The Bookseller's Tasha Onwuemezi quotes Page from his talk this way:
The book needs little solving it seems, but ‘not book’ is an infinite universe we must keep exploring.
I felt that 'not book' was the theme of yesterday's conference.
No problem there.
If anything, the mission of the conference—like the mission of this FutureBook section of The Bookseller's online coverage—is to look at what digital and publishing can produce, and something "not book" is clearly a part of that essential inquiry, sometimes the biggest part.
But what Greko's review gives us is a chance to consider a key element of what we expect when we get off the train to Transmedia, step onto the platform—mind the gap—and look around at where we've arrived: do we want to be without good writing as a fundamental element of what we have and do?
Let's talk about it today in #FutureChat.
This story was written as the walkup to the #FutureChat of 11th December 2015. Join us every Friday live on Twitter at:
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Questions of the day
I've seen what Greko is referring to in other digitally developed storytelling scenarios. For a time, F+W Media produced a major conference in California, StoryWorld, with the help of the UK's Alison Norrington.
At many points, I was struck by how easily the quaility of the textual elements of such work could be explained away as being "mainly there for the experiment," almost as if developers and designers were using Ipsum lorem as a placeholder for what might be, we had to hope, "real" writing created by "real" authors of "real" merit...some day.
Surely in The Pickle Index, things aren't that bad.
But is it unfair to say that in some cases of "writing created for a digital space," as Greko puts it, there can seem to be more interest in that digital space and in filling it with the needed amount of text than there might be in what that writing is and does?
And if we're willing to venture close to agreement that this at least could be the case when so much attention is going into interactivity and the kind of detailed rendering of a story world that Greko finds praiseworthy in The Pickle Index, that we're going to be happy to find that good writing has been left behind?
If "not book," then...what?
And if the answer turns out to be "not good writing, either," are we cool with that?
Or are there some non-negotiables on our long ride to the futurebook?
See you in #FutureChat.
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