Plan B -- a blognovel, Frequently Asked Questions

This page contains both questions that I've been asked and questions that I keep asking myself as I work on Plan B. Always keep in mind: this is a work in progress. Like the definition, like the story itself, these answers will evolve in time.

A short overview of what Plan B is and isn't can be found in What is Plan B?. That document also addresses some general issues that have been mentioned recently.

Questions:

Q: How does the nature of the weblog affect the story?

A: This is difficult to say yet, but let's enumerate some qualities that weblogs have:

  • Relatively short entries. This implies a story that will proceed more by flashes. The flashes, while coherent in time, should retain some flavor of their own, inviting the reader both to go forward and backwards.
  • Entries that are shown in date-descending order (by convention more than anything else). This seems to be a minor issue compared to the fact that the blog-calendar allows you to jump anywhere and start anywhere. It's a subset of that, as far as stories are concerned.
  • New readers that might arrive at any day in the weblog (and hence the story) and old readers that might skip one or more days in it. As long as each entry has some meaning on its own, it should be possible to create something interesting (even something coherent!).
  • Entries are "improvisational," by which I mean that you usually sit down, write it, and post it. There isn't a lot of preparation, hours of editing or things like that. You write it, you post it. Maintaining this should not be hard, mainly it would seem to remove most of the editing phase from the writing process.

Q: So the entries have no editing at all?

A: They are not heavily edited, but I will occasionally correct a few things here and there, and I will add/remove small portions of text over the day. If a sentence is not right, it has to be fixed. And I don't just mean gramatically or syntactically. Also, sometimes sometimes there are situations that beg to be expanded. Compared to the editing that is involved in a print novel or story, though, the editing in a blognovel is almost nonexistent.

Q: What's with the hyperlinks in the middle of the text?

A: Even though you will be able to read each entry as a unit, it is still important to be able to follow the whole story if you want. One alternative is to jump to the beginning and start there. The other is to use the hyperlinks for "backtracking" through the story when needed.

I'll do my best to provide backtracking through the whole story of a particular element, instead of just linking to the first appearance. For example, at the end of this entry there is a reference to a package. If you click on it, you won't go directly to the entry where the package was first mentioned, but the closest most important entry in the past related to the package. Then that entry contains a link to the first time the package was mentioned.

Q: Are the current time in the story and the time of the posting related?

A: This is definitely tempting, and it wouldn't be impossible to do. However, it would be another huge constrain on how the story is told, and there already are enough constraints that can't be removed (related to the nature of the weblog) to start with. Maintaining time-synchronization would mean, first, a story that unfolds over months, in a sort of flashes on real-time. This means that very few interesting things can happen; it would become more diary than story, with dozens of inane entries. It would force the use of back-story constantly to fill holes in the narrative. It would also restrict the "improvisational" nature of weblogs, which is something I wanted to keep.

Q: Is this related to any of the other (print) novels titled Plan B?

A: No. Some readers pointed me to them, such as a novel by that title by Chester Himes from 1983, and another one by published in 1999 Sharon Lee and Steve Miller, but those are print novels, not serial works, online or offline.

Q: Is this an entirely new concept?

A: Not entirely, no. There are similarities between Plan B and serialized novels, which were more common in the late 19th-early 20th century. Both Tolstoy's Ana Karenin, Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man or Great Expectations by Dickens were serialized. Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury is a collection of short stories that follows an overall plotline and is then similar to Plan B. A better definition of Plan B, then, might be "an experiment that tries to see what comes of out mixing a serialized novel with a weblog."

It also has been noted that it has some similarities to an epistolary novel.

Some people have specifically mentioned Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs and other works of the beat generation as similar in either style, content or spirit.

Many, many people have mentioned BBS-based systems where the messages centered around fiction or fictional characters (However, most of this systems where oriented towards stories created by group collaboration, not a single person doing the writing).

And then there are hypertext novels, which are also similar in concept. Both the day-by-day nature of weblogs and their forward-only nature are differences with hypertext novels. (hypertext novels are connected in all directions, whereas Plan B only contains back-hyperlinks to clarify story points). Finally, I've received several pointers to similar works. Both jorm and Sex N' Crime are the ones that are closest to the concept of blognovel, or that are directly based on it (so far). I'll keep adding new ones as I find them or receive them. If you know of a similar work, please send me an email pointing to it.

This weblog entry from Netlex contains some more information on other serialized works and related things.

Q: Is the story going anywhere?

A: Yes.  

Q: No, seriously, Is the story going anywhere?

A: Well, pretty much. As a writer, you have an idea of what will happen, but you can't really control everything the characters will do. Things sometimes go their own way when writing.

Q: Would you change the story based on reader feedback?

A: It depends. I suppose if something happens and suddenly a hundred emails appear in my inbox complaining about how stupid/illogical/awful/etc that event was, I'd consider changing it. After all, weblogs imply a more direct connection with readers, and it would be interesting to use that connection. 

Q: But to get the whole picture I'd have to read all the entries, right?

A: I think that after a certain number of days (or entries) I might create a "summary entry" explaining "what's happened so far." Like TV shows do. In that sense, this is very much like a TV show, or like a cartoon that follows a certain storyline (as opposed to the ones where every day has no relation to the previous whatsoever). TV shows are sequential, but the viewer can arrive at any moment and in any order. Each episode is relatively short. If it wasn't written material it would be a blogshow instead of a blognovel, I guess.

Q: What's your experience with it so far? (creatively, etc)

A: It's fun. As the story advances, it might get harder to maintain coherency or a directed story flow. The boundaries created by the weblog format mean that you can't use standard narrative without screwing everything up. The flipside of this structural restriction is that the day-to-day format of the blog entries sort of helps on maintaining the story fresh, as far as I can see. It seems to provide a blank slate, everyday. Less cumbersome than having to deal with 200 pages of previous baggage as in a regular novel. The preceding entries become a bit like background for the current entry.

Q: How often do you post new entries?

A: I generally post at least one entry a day, maybe more. Once or twice during the day I might update preexisting entries, fixing a typo or adding a few paragraphs. I have no idea if this is good or bad. In this case, how much is enough? I also update this FAQ as new questions or ideas arrive.

Q: Are you sure blognovel is a new term?

A: It looks like it: As of Sunday, July 28 (10 am GMT) Google was giving no results on the term, ditto Altavista, although this is far from definite proof. I didn't think much about it, I just came up with it along with the title, and it is only meant to handily reference what Plan B is without resorting to "well, it's a novel... and a weblog... but not quite..." and to avoid confusion with other ideas, both blog- and non-blog-related.