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The Postmodern Non-Linear Serial Novel

Jorge Luis Borges, eat your heart out...
  [vote for,

Many of Charles Dicken's books originally appeared in serial form, with a chapter at a time being published in subsequent editions of a particular magazine. More recently, Stephen King had a shot at the serial novel with his story "The Green Mile". This idea takes things a step forward, and adds a new twist to the genre.

The first installment comes bound not as a conventional book but with the pages filed in a stylish ring-binder. All further instalments come as bundles of hole-punched paper - and here's the core of the idea - along with instructions detailing where these pages are to be filed in the binder. So instead of the story simply running on through time as it does in the conventional serial, it is free to expand in any way the author wishes it to.

For example, a previously minor character's role could be fleshed out, perhaps completely revising the reader's perception of his later actions in the rest of the story. Whole sections of the story could later prove to be lies or wishful thinking by a certain character - and so an so on, limited only by the imagination of the author. The only hard and fast rule should be that, with each installment, the story is effectively "finished": i.e. with each installment the book is a stand-alone, complete novel. Until the next installment arrives, and everything shifts once more...

lostdog, Mar 04 2003

John Barth http://www.centerfo...ext/no5/harris.html
Also uses cumulative deformations of format and structure to represent dialog between form and meaning. [roby, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 06 2004]

Non-linear novel http://www.ryman-novel.com/
A non-linear novel, using hyperlinks. The internet is an excellent medium for this kind of stuff. [whimsickle, Oct 04 2004, last modified Oct 06 2004]


       If an author had enough skill to create one of these that had real value as literature, rather than just an exercise in demonstrating how the format could change the story, it could be a real masterpiece.
beauxeault, Mar 04 2003

       Sounds too much to me like people changing their annotations here. I'm not going to re-read the whole list of annos every time, and wouldn't likely want to re-read an entire book 20 times. It would have to be damn good.
Worldgineer, Mar 04 2003

       Try Italo Calvino's "If on a Winter's Night a Traveller" to get this exact effect without the binder business.
snarfyguy, Mar 04 2003

       Interesting. Like a variant on a "from another viewpoint" story, such as "Boomtown" (currently showing on C5 here in UK). Some of the effect would be like reading a book or watching a film knowing the plot twist, as for example, "Sixth Sense".
angel, Mar 04 2003

       ...and so at the moment I'm veering towards fishbone but as I mentioned earlier...
DrBob, Mar 04 2003

       How would you organize the thing? Page numbers would be useless....
phoenix, Mar 04 2003

       Simple. Just use decimal chapter / paragraph headings.   

       Gives a new meaning to 'The Neverending Story.'
RayfordSteele, Mar 04 2003

       Not quite, I understand that the Star Wars sequence of nine films was mapped out as a concept long before ANH was filmed. Ditto the Harry Potter novels. This is more that extra bits get edited in as time goes on.   

       The more I think about this the more I like it. Imagine a Lord of the Rings that got bigger and bigger over time as more and more story and background was added, until you could spend your whole life reading it.
8th of 7, Mar 05 2003

       Scripts get rewrites, even after project has been greenlighted, cast and crew assembled and all that behind-the-scenes stuff.
If a script which is printed on white paper is changed *after* most of the copies have been distributed, rather than reprint the whole thing, they'll use blue sheets and/or cross out sections of and/or remove entire pages of the white script's dialogue which is going to be missing from film. In addition, there are notes on white and/or blue sheets where dialogue has been moved to, if chronology changes, fictional character eliminated, location change, etc.. All of these sheets are placed, with specific instructions in the proper locations. If the script gets revised further, it gets pink sheets... rinse and repeat.
thumbwax, Mar 05 2003

       //don't want to read the same book 20 times//   

       I had thought about this myself - the only way to avoid it is to make sure that each installment has a greater word count than what you've already read. If the original story is one page long, the next installment is two pages long. There should always be more to read than there was in the previous version (as people who have already read previous versions will skip those bits anyway).   

       Perhaps the story starts with a single sentence: then grows to a paragraph, then grows into a page of text that surrounds that paragraph and throws it into an entirely different light; then that page grows into two pages, which then expands into three...   

       Eventually the original sentence becomes subsumed into a story that at the same time incorporates and engulfs it...
lostdog, Mar 05 2003

       One could make the argument that this is what the Star Trek novels have done. I'm not sure I would make that argument, though.
waugsqueke, Mar 05 2003

...the Ripper
and Jill
..., my next door neighbor
......'s pet canary (that's right, the one with that smoky, sultry way of looking at a man that can just turn his knees to spaghetti)
went up
...town to
......the cable car stop, where they caught a cable car down
the hill...
beauxeault, Mar 05 2003

       while this may not work in practice, its a fine example of the creative genius dispayed in the halfbakery every day of the year. bravo. bravo! *shamelessly ingratiating himself*.
sambwiches, Mar 05 2003

       it occurs to me that the function of a novel is to present a particular idea within a certain context that the author creates for a reason, and that, like life and all other forms of art, novels have a definate beginning and end.   

       nice concept (tre marketable) but violates the guiding principle that art should reflect life (perhaps influence life, optimistically), rather than usurp it.
masterjoda, Mar 05 2003

       This is largely what many "post-modern" writers have attempted, some quite well. The only difference is the pacing and mechanics, which I think could get tiresome and be self-defeating.
(Not all readers willing or interested in participating in mass consumption of serialized material. Post-modern fiction not as big an audience as Harry Potter fans) Most want to get the finished thing in hand, then explore it out. Perhaps the entire serialization is in a box, and readers assemble as they go to see how meanings evolve with each stage of the construction.

Concepts similar to Doris Lessing's "Golden Notebooks", many by John Barth (Friday Book-Tales within Tales within Tales, Chimera), also the recent film "Memento", and many others I'm sure readers can supply.
I think these and other writers can create the effect well enough without putting readers through the hoops.
[See link for John Barth]
roby, Mar 06 2003

       I'd like to see a book you can read, but then when you're done you can start over again and you go back to the beginning and it's sort of the same but incorporates subsequent events and so on...   

       I continue to recommend the Calvino.
snarfyguy, Mar 06 2003

       I've read "the Calvino" myself - not exactly what I had in mind. Very relevant, though. Calvino handn't written a book for a while before he came up with "If on a Winter's Night..." - it almost reads like a writer's notebook, like a series of ideas that he would have pursued if only he hadn't had the critics on his back expecting him to come up with another masterpiece...   

       "If on a Winter's Night..." is a book about aborted ideas - it purports to be about a reader chasing down the perfect book, but actually it's about a writer coming to terms with the fact that anything that is finished is necessarily imperfect. Calvino is writing about his love of capturing the reader's attention with his first few sentences - the fact that the novel is fractured and eternally unfinished bears testament to the fact that, in finishing a novel, the author always betrays his reader.
lostdog, Mar 13 2003

       Each new addition should perhaps be given to a different author. The challenge of incorporating someone else's story into their own should make them rise to new creative heights.
lostdog, Mar 13 2003

       Sounds like "Catch-22" to me.
Tabbyclaw, Apr 02 2003

       Would this be about that awesome bird who is Cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs? He is by far my favorite serial character. He could school that leprechaun wuss with one peck of his mighty, chocolatey beak!
bungston, Apr 02 2003

       Halfbaked over the past 2000 years...the bible has been penned, edited, re-edited, censored, re-penned, and has been the subject of thousands of interpretations since its "first edition"
jackhandy, Apr 19 2003

       //Calvino is writing about his love of capturing the reader's attention with his first few sentences - the fact that the novel is fractured and eternally unfinished bears testament to the fact that, in finishing a novel, the author always betrays his reader.//   

       But nowadays, [lostdog], they can just re-write it again later. Not that they couldn't have done so in the past, but it's a literary effort that now seems to be coming into its own. Joyce Carol Oates has just done this with one of her early novels.
snarfyguy, Apr 19 2003

       I am ambivalent about this idea. I can understand the story value of an installment doing something like taking an existing character who has proven to be popular and introducing them earlier in a book, then taking the opportunity to give that character more diverse attributes and a more interesting life-story, giving them more life in the readers mind, or even downplaying the importance of certain incidents or characters to make the story more riveting (eg. "Do you recall the gun mentioned in chapter 6 - well, the latest installment reveals it was a replica, a stage prop. I could never have been used to kill the greengrocer!"). If the story was sufficiently well-written and people reading the story were aware they were reading a "work-in-progress" I think each new installment would be eagerly anticipated. Then again, who would want to read the developing story knowing it could be drastically changed ("Oh, I'm not going to buy it now. I'll wait for the final version.") before they finish it? In that light, I can't see this working effectively if offered as a novel, but perhaps a short story that grows and evolves has a greater chance for success.
Canuck, Apr 20 2003

       Could be really interesting. Make it so that, on first read-through, none of the characters' actions make sense one way. Later go back and put in "oh yeah, they fought over a girl ten years ago", to totally change the nature of the interactions and dialogue.   

       Although, this is very possible with a normal book as well.   

       Maybe you could selectively order inserts? Like choose one with some justification to make the main character's antisocial actions more sympathetic, or get a couple of characters into bed for a couple of scenes. Or different descriptions of people or places to appeal to different tastes.   

       Although in this case, maybe just write your own book?
GutPunchLullabies, Dec 06 2006

       reminds me of Simpsons' "How to cook humans" --> "How to cook for humans" --> "How to cook forty humans" --> "How to cook for forty humans". Fun! +
phundug, Dec 06 2006


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