Litblog Roundup is a bi-weekly overview of topics, trends and highlights from the literary Internet. In this roundup: it’s a tumultuous time for electronic writing, how many kinds of stories are there, David Bowie and more.
New Year, New Trends
At the start of a new year, while it’s still the early decades of a new millennium, it’s tempting to think about the future. So it comes as no surprise that the literary Internet wonders, at a time like this, about the once-futuristic technology of E-books and surveys the popularity of that technology. The Digital Reader has news of one such survey, reporting that seventeen percent of Germans read from ebooks. It’s easy to suppose that figures like this will increase as mobile technology because cheaper and more reliable, but on the other hand, there are some early adopters who are going the other way. Craig Mod, a notable advocate for digital reading, has decided to give ebooks a break for a while, until they develop into a more mature technology. He’s not alone, either.
How Many Plots?
When I was in High School, a well-meaning older writer gave me a book to read as I began my early forays into writing. The book was called 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them. Now in its third edition, the book’s premise is Aristotelian in the sense that it defines a set of categories for all the stories that there are, that there ever could be, and instructs its readers to write according to those formulas.
Later in my career, I encountered some software that makes a similar assumption, called the Dramatica theory, that there’s a formula to any story.
It’s a tenacious idea, if not an agreeable one, and it has appeared again in The Atlantic this month, with TV producer John Yorke’s “All Stories Are the Same“, and article which claims:
“From Avatar to The Wizard of Oz, Aristotle to Shakespeare, there’s one clear form that dramatic storytelling has followed since its inception.”
Are there 20, or only one? Perhaps there isn’t even one at all, according to the rebuttal by Lincoln Michel, entitled “The One Underlying Substance of All Story Structure Models: Bullshit”
It isn’t so much that Yorke or is wrong, but that he is merely saying nothing. Yes, you can abstract and generalize until everything is the same. But does that tell us anything? All fruits are really the same, just edible plant matter. All objects on earth are made from a few basic atoms. Everything in the universe is just energy. Yada yada. But at least understanding atoms or plant matter teach us important things about biology and physics. The abstraction of story to a few simple models tells us nothing.
In November, poet Ashraf Fayadh was sentenced to death by the Saudi Arabian government for apostasy. His conviction was based in part on the contents of his 2008 book, Instructions Within. A worldwide reading was held this month, raising awareness of the event, the writer, and his work. Apollo Magazine includes a translation from the book and describes the worldwide reading:
On Thursday 14 January, a ‘Worldwide Reading for Ashraf Fayadh’ took place across 122 events in 44 countries, all organised by the International Literature Festival Berlin.
For more information about the response to Fayadh’s sentence, the Guardian has a detailed article with links.
I love David Bowie too much to let the litblog roundup go by without something to pay homage to the Thin White Duke. How does the literary Internet respond to the career of a musician? Let’s consider how David Bowie wrote his lyrics. Drawing inspiration from Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs, Bowie adopted the cut-up technique as a way to write lyrics. It’s a method he says he used throughout his career. The BBC interviewed Bowie on the subject.
The New, New Republic
In 2012, one of the Facebook co-founders swooped in to own The New Republic, a venerable publication, as if it were a start-up, dot-com company, and he sought to treat it like one. By 2014, many staff and contributors to the publication were outraged when the new CEO planned to reorganize the company into “vertically integrated digital media company.” Perhaps if he hadn’t used the phrase “vertically integrated”? Perhaps not. Now, the Wall Street Journal reports that the effort has failed and that the owner has announced in a company memo that he will put the magazine up for sale:
Web traffic declined by more than 50% following the tumult, according to comScore Inc., and hasn’t risen much in the past year.
In November, the site attracted 2.3 million unique visitors, down 38% from the same month a year earlier.
“Our disagreement didn’t help our ability to make The New Republic viable today, but it also did not spell our demise,” Mr. Hughes said. “Even though our search for a workable business model has come up short, we have shown that digital journalism isn’t at odds with quality and depth.”
In the memo, Mr. Hughes said finding a sustainable business model for the magazine had proven elusive.