Home > Check this out > The Wire of novels

The Wire of novels

In my endless cascade of open browser tabs I found this post by author Pamela Redmond Satran on Novelr. It’s called “Reinventing the Novel” and I think I didn’t bother reading it before “Clean Out Browser Tab Day” because every week there’s another slate of ‘reinventing the ____’ stories that I open, skim, and close. But there was actually an idea in this one that really struck me:

…my husband, after watching the DVD of American Gangster, [told] me he found the movie good enough but ultimately unsatisfying. “It was a movie,” he explained, “so you knew from the beginning that everything really interesting was going to happen to Denzel Washington and Russell Crowe, and that it was going to build to this big climax at the end.”

That was the problem with conventional novels too, I thought. They were predictable, limited and finite in form and scope. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to write – and read – a novel that unfolded in a way that was both more leisurely and more compelling, the way TV shows like Mad Men and The Wire did?

Yes! Totally right. Even as I was writing The Collective, my goal was to tie up the ending in the way that felt right. In other words, that would resonate with readers as the appropriate ending. (I won’t tell you what that is.) But that was because I wanted to fit into the format of the novel. Now, one could write a format buster – a novel in episodes (like If one a winter’s night a traveler… or Cloud Atlas) or one that subverts the reader’s expectations (and probably leaves most feeling unsatisfied). But then you’re looking at a slimmer audience.

But what about new formats? In the way that The Wire (and The Sopranos and others) took the “television drama” format and the “movie” format and melded them together into something exponentially longer and exponentially more interesting?

Satran’s attempt is called Ho Springs. It’s an online novel. And I was too excited about this initial idea to read through it before posting, but I’m going to be checking it out.

Any other examples out there you guys know of?

UPDATE (one minute later): Now I’m thinking about the worlds of video games. Robin convinced me over the holidays to buy Dragon Age: Origins, the first video game I’ve bought in about ten years. He sold me on it because the story was so dense. Maybe the format buster of the novel is something more along these lines?

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  1. March 23, 2010 at 5:54 am

    Wait, but isn’t this basically just a serialized novel? Dickens, Eliot, Melville, et al were doing this in the 19th century.

  2. March 23, 2010 at 5:54 am

    Hi there, Andrew. Eli here, from Novelr. Glad to hear that you liked the article. If you’re looking for other works – there’s a good collection over at the Web Fiction Guide (http://webfictionguide.com). It’s fairly comprehensive, and should make browsing for good writing a tad easier to do.

  3. March 23, 2010 at 5:58 am

    @echan – Right, but those were pre-novel-as-we-know-it formats, right? They had arcs that we would recognize today as novel-like? Would a The Wire of novels be a three-year long writing endeavor with the final compilation being about as thuck as two Infinite Jests?

  4. March 23, 2010 at 6:01 am

    PS: A personal recommendation – I particularly enjoy the Legion of Nothing (http://inmydaydreams.com/?p=5) even though the design’s slightly off at the moment. But the writing’s brilliant. You should give it a try.

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