Is Your Story Fit for the Internet Age?
By Jennifer Sauer, Student Contributor
Let’s be honest: we all want to be famous.
As we plan, and outline, and write, and edit, we picture our book on the bestseller list. We picture book signings in huge fancy stores, packed lines longer than any book signing has drawn before.
We’ve got a dream cast picked out for when they make our book into a movie (not if, when), ignoring the little voice in our heads reminding us that by the time we get famous none of these actors will be the right age to play our characters.
We’ve practiced interviews in our heads, planned posts, dreamed of what kind of author we plan to be (the kind who hangs with their fans, the mysterious and elusive writer, etc.).
We all want to be famous, all picture our book going big.
So, I’m going to indulge you in that fantasy. You want your book to go big. Here’s my question for you: If it does, is it suited to the internet age?
See, everything’s on the internet these days. People go see a movie or read a book and they post spoilers without even meaning to. They write a review and mention the ending. They screenshot scenes with superimposed dialogue and it gives just a little too much information. They post a Facebook status, they post to Tumblr, they post on a “book confessions” thing, and then it gets posted around, shared, and re-shared.
Then I see it on Pinterest and know how it ends.
Before I even started reading the Divergent series, I knew how it ended. I hadn’t read a single word and I knew the most significant spoiler at the end. I also knew every major character and most of their backstories in the Heroes of Olympus series before I finished reading the Percy Jackson series that comes before it.
I finished the entire Divergent series in the space of a week. I never finished the first Heroes of Olympus book, Son of Neptune. So, why did I finish one but not the other?
I couldn’t get through Son of Neptune for a number of reasons, but I think I could have overlooked most of them if the author hadn’t hit me in the face with suspense every five seconds.
See, I knew the answer to the question the author was dangling over my head. There’s this huge mystery surrounding one of the main characters in the book. Major, major mystery with so much suspense. The entire book rides on it. So every time he dangled it, every time he made the engaging part of his story ride on the fact that I didn’t know, it fell flat. I didn’t care, because I knew. And, that was the only thing his plot seemed to ride on. The burning question, the big things that needed an answer? I knew what was going to happen.
So I didn’t care.
Now, years ago, you could make your book ride on one thing. You could center your plot around one key point. But not today. Not in the Young Adult fiction world.
On the other hand, knowing how the Divergent series ended didn’t change anything for me, because there was so much else going on. The books have so many layers, so many facets, that if one or two of them are spoiled, there’s still so much there, so much that is unknown, and so much going on, that the series is still engaging to read.
And yes, the story’s working toward the supreme spoiler, but the author never dangles it over your head. It’s not a huge mystery, not some huge thing that the entire series hinges on.
Now, I’m not saying your story can’t hinge on a plot twist. I’m saying you have to give your story more of a draw than that.
A good example of this is the original Star Wars trilogy. We live in an age where almost everyone knows Darth Vader is Luke’s father. “Luke, I am your father” is one of most quoted movie lines of all time (even though that’s not actually a direct quote from the movie).
But people don’t hate Star Wars because they know that, even if they know it before they watch the movies. Because there is so much more to the story. The entire plot doesn’t ride on whether or not we know Vader is Luke’s father. There’s more to it, and that’s why people are able to enjoy the movies even knowing what is going to happen.
Your story can have plot twists. Major plot twists. It can have the biggest plot twist in the history of plot twists. But your story can’t hinge on that.
Basically, books that are only good the first time through don’t work anymore. Those worked in an age where people didn’t see spoilers, people didn’t know what was coming. Now that we have stories being spoiled left and right, you need something better.
The internet has presented us with a challenge; one that great writers will rise above and see as a push to make their book even better. A novel now needs to stand the test of time, needs to be just as magical to reread as it was the first time through.
It might take a little more time, might be a little more work. But then, writing is work. It’s so much work.
Finally, I would like to specify that this may apply especially to the YA genre. Spoilers don’t seem to get out as much in books written for adults. For example, Agatha Christie’s books have been out for ages. I haunt a lot of literary sites and read a ton of literature-related blogs, but I have yet to see a single spoiler for any of her books. So, I’m not sure it applies as much with other genres as it does with YA. I think it’s because young adults are more active online, and they seem to interact especially through stories. But I’m in more contact with young adults and read more young adult books than adult, so that may only be my experience.
What is a favorite story that includes a plot twist that still bears re-reading? What is one that falls short?
Jennifer Sauer is a 20-something single girl with a head full of knowledge and a heart full of dreams. She began making up stories long before she could hold a pencil and hasn’t stopped since. In recent years she discovered a passion for fairy tales and the art of retelling them.
When not writing she divides her time between reading, crafting, nannying and babysitting, passing on her love of story in many different forms, and striving to live happily ever after each and every moment of her life. For more about her and her writing check out her blog at: http://ivorypalace.blogspot.com/
* Please note that links on The One Year Adventure Novel Blog to other websites and blogs do not constitute an official endorsement. We are not intimately familiar with all the writing and opinions contained in outside links.