01/07/2011 01:01 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Con Games: On Writing The Post-Papyrus Novel

During the dark ages of technology -- this would be 1984 or so -- I found myself lucky enough to go to the first-ever Microsoft conference on CD-ROM, AKA "CD-ROM: The New Papyrus," held in Seattle, Washington.

It would be impossible to exaggerate the level of excitement (and, ultimately, hype) at the confab those 25 years ago. CD-ROMs have since disappeared, along with CD-Interactive, one of the most disastrous new media launches in the history of technology. (I know this personally, for I was once the managing editor of CD-I News, of which there was none. You could look it up.) What remains are DVDs and a little thing they call the World Wide Web.

Papyrus -- and writing in a post-papyrus world -- came to mind as I posted some fiction on the Discussion Board of my Facebook novel "CHILDREN OF THE O'KELLS." Papyrus, the ancient Egyptian scroll and the pre-cursor to paper, is the ultimate in linear writing: you start at the top of the scroll and you finish at the bottom. Traditional print updated that idea: you start at the first page, flip to the second, and keep flipping until you come to the end. But it's the same deal: start at the top and go to the bottom: linear, like I said: narrative in a straight line.

Within that narrative, however, the author can go anywhere in time, follow any character or sub-plot, jump from voice to voice. The most extreme example I've seen is Ken Kesey's "Sometimes A Great Notion," where narrators change even within a sentence.

Even so, we are all still writing by papyrus, top to bottom, start to finish. That's the novel as we now know it today.

What does any of this have to do with Facebook? Think of the Facebook wall as a kind of upside-down papyrus scrolling upward: to get the story, you can start at the bottom (page one) and read to the top (last page). In writing a novel on Facebook, the story jumps from the papyrus -- an upside-down scroll on the Facebook wall -- to the Discussion Board, where I have posted source documents -- oral histories, transcripts, and the like.

Characters on the home page can leave the upside-down papyrus to comment on what's being created away from the Facebook wall. The content you can put on the Discussion Boards, however, is a literally papyrus scrolling ever downward. Even though the Discussions take you away from the more linear form on the Facebook Wall, they still leave one (me) fundamentally trying to connect a series of linear worlds: in this case, the upside down wall with the rightside up Discussion Boards.

Which leaves the novelist exactly nowhere, essentially forcing interactivity into the pre-existing linear wrappers of a social media phenomenon with like a gazillion users. A more mature platform would allow for a platform that would support narrative motion any time, across any media, in any voice. And it would be awful if that platform had like a gazillion users.

I hope smarter people than me are busy figuring this out here in the rosy-fingered dawn of multimedia storytelling. The best I can do for now is to
blog about it -- in papyrus form, of course.