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In the modern era should literature embrace the lessons from new media and discard some traditional practices?


I recently asked a question about my current project for a serialised e-story and was informed by the stalwarts that my format was not new. I contrast my own techniques with many of those being promoted in this Q&A, and, after extended thought, have decided new media techniques differ substantially from the traditional and perhaps should be embraced.

I have witnessed endless questions about heroes, villains, conflicts and arcs. I do not believe I am alone in believing traditional formulas have become predictable and boring. The emphasis in story-telling has moved unapologetically in the direction of character (as opposed to plot). Accelerated communications, the Internet, and social media now provide instant, unsolicited feedback.

If we compare the beloved literary trilogy with a successful TV drama season we can see the vast difference in formats. TV seasons contain multiple, dynamic, asymmetric character arcs within rolling storyline. Last week's hero may be this week's villain. The inclusion of actors with real lives causes plot-lines to be far more flexible. If an actor dies, becomes ill, or gets pregnant - the character must suffer the same fate. We learn from this that plot-lines and arcs are not set in stone. Armed with the knowledge the public will accept the unexpected we are freed from traditional formulae. If a character is not 'liked' but the customer, that character is simply replaced (regardless of what the original arc decreed).

I admit, my new project started a white male supporting character. By episode two he was boring me. The traditional writer in me considered starting again. But what's done is done. I threw him under a bus and replaced him with a female Hispanic character that was missing in terms of diversity.

Globalisation, capitalism, and diversity have a greater effect on multi-million dollar studio production than on the single writer.

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In the modern era should literature embrace the lessons from new media and discard some traditional practices?

Of course. But you are wrong about the successful TV Drama season; every episode is indeed plotted to within the inch on the page, they are so concerned about character consistency and voice that writers are assigned to be the only one that writes dialogue and action for their particular characters. Their future plotting, for the season, is far more than what most authors plot for sequels, in fact one of the most successful series, Babylon 5 (by master writer J. Michael Straczynski) had written plots and arcs for every major character, for either a 5 or 7 year run from the beginning.

Yes, series writers adapt to new circumstances, so do novel writers. Many novels reflect the real-life issues of the day, when those change, writers adapt, to stay relevant.

Writing should evolve, certainly. I don't recommend writing as authors did even fifty years ago; like old television shows, it just feels dated.

But people like stories, and the elements of story are not going to change. Plots, character arcs, and relatable human emotion will continue to sell forever, as they have for thousands of years, because that is what humans enjoy. Wondering what happens next, wondering if (or how) someone can succeed against daunting odds. As the sports have it, the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat. They want to see heroes triumph over villains, because IRL villains tend to triumph over those that would be heroes. Fiction is usually similar to religion in that sense, it is the promise that good can prevail. At least, that's what sells best.

Discard those traditional elements at your peril. Even in a "character" story, there is a plot for the transformation of the character. Incidents, setbacks, despair and risk-taking, decisions to be made. Perhaps wins to be enjoyed.

The way writing needs to adapt is only in making the stories plausible and relevant to the modern audience. Which is more sophisticated, and either knowledgeable or quickly educated by a voice-activated cell phone search. The author still has to maintain, for the reader, immersion in the story without violating plausibility that jerks them out of their reading reverie to think the author is clueless. That reader is a moving target, changing constantly, usually gradually but quickly if their times should suddenly change. Authors (novelists, movie and TV script writers) have to adapt with them to keep selling into the changing market. Some ways of writing may fall by the wayside, but the bones of what makes a good story will not.

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