Readers and Writers: a Blurring Boundary

September 7, 2009 at 7:16 PM | Posted in Op-Ed, Reading, Writing | 4 Comments

This weekend I attended DragonCon, a massive science fiction convention held annually in Atlanta, GA. While the intricate costumes and parody commercials on the DragonCon TV channel were highly entertaining, one of the most interesting aspects (at least for me) was the interplay between the authors, actors, and artists and their fans. In most of the writers’ panels I attended, the speakers would answer questions from a trained volunteer while audience members scribbled notes – it was rare for fans to ask questions, let alone engage the speakers in conversation. In many ways, these sessions mirrored the traditional writer-reader relationship: the author inscribes the words on the page, and the reader absorbs them and accepts them as “truth,” at least for fiction.

But the writer-reader relationship is changing. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and online forums have made writers far more accessible to their audience. And when readers “interact” with fictional characters online, they are no longer mere passive observers to an author’s creation. In the future this shifting dynamic will almost undoubtedly lead to more interactive events and panels, but what else will it change? Could the very act and final product of writing morph into something new and collaborative?

I wish I could give you a concrete example of what I mean, but I’m not sure one exists yet. The first possibility that springs to mind is a customizable novel, with content that would adjust – through electronic profiles or other means – to make the main character more like the reader. Another is an online blog or forum by a character with content that would change as a reader moves through a novel (monitored electronically through an e-reader or another device) and gives feedback to questions and comments made by the protagonist.

Would this variety of supersized “Create Your Own Adventure” novel make reading a more interesting or engaging experience? Or would it disrupt the coherence of and emersion in an author’s unique world, at least at first? Either way, there is little doubt that the line between reading and writing will become increasingly blurred as technology continues to advance.

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