Doc’s Writercraft: Why webfiction?

Webfiction (noun): combination of “Fiction” and “web.”

Fiction (noun): (1) the class of literature comprising works of imaginative narration, esp. in prose form. (2) works of this class, as novels or short stories (ie, “detective fiction”)

Web (noun): synonymous with or referring to “Internet.”


Webfiction isn’t exactly a new phenomena, though it seems to be on the rise and on the wane all at once in this rapidly changing, tech-savvy writing world.  For some writers and readers alike, webfiction bears the same stigma as “fan fiction,” which is loosely defined as fiction set in worlds not of the writer’s creation.  Webfiction, however, is markedly different in that it is original fiction published first on the internet, often for free consumption.(1)  For some authors, it’s a method of alpha/beta testing their work before editing and releasing it in self-published formats.  For others, it is the end-all, be-all of their work, simply another medium they work in.

So why do it at all?

For me, it’s a way of getting my work out there and vetting it before a live audience.  A lot of people write in a vacuum and often their work never sees the light of day–it’s the same for many artists, some of whom turn to writing and drawing webcomics to force themselves to hone and share their craft with others.  For some writers of webfiction, the reason they turn to the internet as a medium for their work is twofold:

  1. To force themselves to write to a deadline every day (every week, every month, etc. depending upon update schedules).
  2. To expose their work to the world in the most easily accessible way.

A corollary to this last point deals with self-publishing.  Up until very recently, self-publishing books (prose, comic, or otherwise) was incredibly cost-prohibitive.  While the ebook revolution has caused a paradigm shift in the self-publishing universe(2), webfiction remains one medium that is entirely in the hands of an author.  Anyone can set up a blog through Blogger or WordPress and get to writing–and quickly.  That means your work is out there for anyone to find.(3)

The internet is an almost inherently social medium.  It is this social aspect of the web that is attractive to many authors of webfiction.  It enables writers to glean insights and get opinions from readers–on a work that’s still in progress.  Here’s an example from my own webfiction serial, Awakenings.

I had a reader make the following observations in a comment on Chapter 9, entry 7:

As for Thom’s broken ribs, they’re gonna take at least six weeks to heal. Don’t ask me how I know this, OK? Coughing is a challenge and despite the five plus years since I broke a couple of my ribs, I still wince at the memory of sneezing.  Agony hardly begins to describe it.

I’m a gun owner, BTW, and if you need any technical advice about pistols and/or rifles, feel free to email me. I’m also into flint- and caplock rifles, i.e., muzzleloaders, and making black powder and flintlock rifles are well within the means of someone with access to hand tools and abandoned train rails.

This was incredibly helpful advice (and I’m still indebted to the reader who shared it).  It’s this kind of thing that makes readers for webfiction invaluable, especially if you wouldn’t be able to get test readers for an independant project with that kind of knowledge (I know that odds are for me, I wouldn’t have been able to). Through tapping into the social aspect of the web, I got some really interesting information that will help me not only with Awakenings, but with other projects down the road.

Another useful aspect of putting work out on the internet–if you’re planning to either just leave it online or self-publish, that is–is that you’re able to have folks catch little tics in your work that you wouldn’t ordinary catch (Chris George, who writes the webfiction serial Shadow has been good about this for me).  Readers aren’t always shy.  They’ll tell you what they like, what they don’t like, and they’ll tell you all of this before it ends up in a book review.  In essence, it’s crowdsourcing part of your editorial process (in many cases, the developmental stage of your editing process, though occassionally it’ll be the proofreading segement, too).

Of course, there’s a caveat to all of this: if you’re planning on traditionally publishing your  work at some point, you should be leary of putting any piece you’re planning on shopping to agents or publishers on the web.  Heck, based on this post shared on The Passive Voice blog, you’ll need to be careful about putting anything out there.

So why write webfiction?  For me, it was about getting work out there, writing to a deadline, and getting some feedback on a piece that was in a very difficult to define genre.


You can find Erin on GoodReads these days @ http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5211226.Erin_Klitzke
And on Smashwords @ http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/EMBKlitzke

 


1. Some webfiction authors (such as MCA Hogarth) have experimented with paid models, but I don’t have data to show whether or not the model works well or not.
2. For more information on the self-pub revolution, see J.A. Konrath, Dean Wesley Smith, and Michael A. Stackpole, as well as the ebook Be The Monkey by Barry Eisler and J.A. Konrath.
3.  Of course, this assumes you know some basic SEO or aren’t afraid to market yourself a little bit.  I’ve had pretty good luck with advertising through Project Wonderful for Awakenings.

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