Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Birth of the Online Novel

This isn’t the first time I’ve tried something like this. About a decade ago, long before anyone had ever heard of the word ‘blog’, I tried my hand at writing an electronic serial novel. I put together a list of about 40 or 50 email addresses of friends, colleagues and students. I promised them one chapter each week and promised to do my best to make it worth their time to read. I knew these people were busy and part of the challenge was to keep their attention. I did three things in my attempts to keep them reading. First, I kept the chapters short; around one thousand words. Second, I tried to end each chapter with a portentous statement that would keep them thinking about it until the next chapter came out. And, finally, I used many of the readers as characters in the story.

Telling people that you are going to write and send out weekly chapters of a detective story when you have never written a novel before is a bit of a high wire act without a net. But it worked. I learned a lot about writing. And, in the process, I wrote three full length detective novels. Later, I advanced the idea and put the chapters online on my website. I also used some budding web technologies like mouse over pop ups, to enhance the story. I was looking ahead to a new concept in writing – the online novel. But, alas, it was a little ahead of its time. It turns out that my readers looked forward to printing out the emailed chapters and reading them with their coffee. Reading from the screen was just not the same. I knew that someday the technology would advance so that it would be easier to read from a computer screen. And indeed, it has. But a decade ago, it just wasn’t there and I lost my readers. Sigh! Live and learn. If you would like to have a look at these stories, they are still online. Have a look at . It is best to use Internet Explorer to look at them as I used some features that are not common to all browsers. If you would like to hear about some of my experiences in writing these stories, and some things I learned, check back on these blog pages.

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