The defining difference between weblit and deadtreelit (aside from the amount of money that does not change hands in weblit) is the availability of immediate interaction between writer and readers. It’s worse even than you might think with deadtreelit, because, as a writer, you not only don’t get reader feedback until you finish writing the book, but, because of publishing schedules, you don’t get reader feedback until a good year after you finish writing the book. By then, as Shirley pointed out elsewhere, your mind has zoomed off in the next direction and you’re most likely a good way into writing your next book, and what readers have to say about the previous one is no longer that important to you.
In weblit, however, readers weigh in as you go and can actually influence the course of the story, whether through a purposeful choose-your-own-adventure or answer-questions system, or informally by comments or emails, or… what-have-you.
For myself, I have stolen an idea or two from character chats, Shirley and I have asked for plot ideas for Kef & Ser (though we haven’t written any yet) and then, a few weeks back, I enlisted readers to act as a virtual command council to help break a siege, and did indeed use one of the ideas put forward. Shirley and I also plan to live-write a book in 72 hours at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, using Google Wave and inviting readers right on so they can see the creative process directly as it unfolds, and contribute as we permit.
What I’m noticing with myself, as I get more used to the weblit format and more comfortable with reader interaction, is that I’m trending towards more audience participation. The command-council gambit was spur-of-the-moment, commenced about 4 ½ hours before the midnight deadline—something I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing a year ago. And then, more recently… well, this story deserves a detailed telling.
In post 275, you might recall, Chevenga received a letter from Assembly about a motion put forward to censure him for encouraging reverence towards himself. Asked to reply to several questions, he found himself at his wit’s end and unable to write.
In a comment on that post, reader V laid out an outline for what he considered the ideal responding letter. It was so good I wanted to steal it entire, but I didn’t want to attribute it to Chevenga himself, both because it would clearly be someone else’s style and because I wanted to credit the outside source. How to do that? Solution: in the next post, I had Kaninjer talk Chevenga into lawyering up. Then the idea hit me… maybe V would be willing to Googlewave-role-play the lawyer?
I asked him, he said yes, we got him a Wave account and we did several sessions over the next few days. V did a great job of being articulate, poker-faced, persnickety, verbally aggressive while at the same time impeccably civil—altogether lawyerly. The resulting material has not all been posted yet, as of this writing, but wherever you see the character Veresinga Shae-Rusha, that’s V (with my edits, of course).
I had never done this—an RP which shortly thereafter became posted material—with anyone other than Shirley (whose RP contributions are found most often in the lines of Minis, of course, Niku, Kallijas, Reknarja, Esora-e, occasionally Karani and sometimes other characters), and V’s strengths as a role-player are totally different from Shirley’s, so it was very cool.
Shortly thereafter, Shirley engaged reader Catfitz in a Wave role-play with Cat playing Zinchaer the Haian psyche-healer and Shirley playing Minis, as usual. I put my oar in, of course, as Shirley had with my RP with V. You'll see the results of that in Eclipse Court.
What this all means is that there will be more of this sort of thing in the future… reader challenges, role-plays, live-writing, calls for ideas, who knows what. I welcome suggestions. If you see a character you might want to try role-playing, sing out—though I totally reserve the right to say no if I don’t think you and the character would be a good match. (V proved it by writing that comment.)
I must warn you about distance-role-playing, however: it is a) time-consuming and b) habit-forming. (Shirley and V can back me up on this.) Fast typing or speech recognition helps a lot (though I haven’t yet figured out how to get the speech recognition utility in Vista to work on Wave yet – works fine in Windows Live Messenger, so that method is available.) As the author I reserve the right to make any and all edits so as to create the resulting post (and I’m sure Shirley does also with her works.)
When I dreamed of being a writer at age 14, I never imagined it could be anything like this.