Telling Stories in the Digital Age

There’s a really nice piece in the New York Times by James R. Gaines. Gaines is a 61-year old veteran of the print magazine world (former editor of Time, Life, and People) who is now Editor-in-Chief at FLYP, an online “magazine”.  From FLYP’s “About Us” page:

FLYP uses an innovative palette of online tools and Web 2.0 user functionality to provide an engaging and enriching multimedia experience. We approach the Internet as a new medium—not just a new distribution channel—and we strive for a form of journalism that fulfills its possibilities on topics that range from politics and science to art and music.

Gaines’s piece at NYT is a meditation on the generational differences in responding to media shift. He feels a little overwhelmed by the extremes of despair and enthusiasm his young (most of them in their 20s) employees throw at the ups and downs of the everyday. I’m sitting right between Gaines and his workers in age (Gaines is a few years older, in fact, than my parents). My first year of teaching at NYU, my freshman students were born the year I graduated from highschool. So I can relate to a degree to his sense of distance from the dramas of youth, and would like to think I’m approaching a point where I can deal with things more philosophically and have some of the perspective of age, particularly in terms of media. As a book historian, I take something of the long view on media shift and the crises and upheavals it precipitates.

The most important thing for me in Gaines’s article is his reminder at the end of the piece that, in terms of the real impact of new media on the written word,

It’s less the device than the devices — the crafts and the art of storytelling — that need updating most urgently for the digital world. 

Which brings me, at last, to the relevance of this to the conversation this blog wants to have. What’s going on in the digital world that brings Young Adult Fiction up to the moment in terms of storytelling? There have been stabs at incorporating new media into conventional texts (like the blog conceit that more or less frames the narrative of Gossip Girl), but to my mind that’s fairly unconvincing. Taking a text message or blog post and printing it into a bound book disingenuously cheats both media (print and digital) – gesturing toward the demise of the book but not really exploiting the potential of the new media. It treats the internet as just a “distribution channel” for print, not really acknowledging the newness of the media and its potential to be new and to show things in a new way (of which print – by which in this case I mean text – is merely a part).

But what does it mean to make that leap? FLYP offers one version for journalism. Is there anything out there that does something similar for fiction? What does “digital fiction” look like?  Is it like this, in which a reader creates of Twilight a metafiction that provides a model of usefully skeptical (and simultaneously hilarious) reading:

Or is it something like this, from Dim O. Gauble’s contribution to Dreaming Methods. The piece explores a young boy’s relationship to his grandmother after he experiences something frightening. Text and images flow together. The reader/viewer is pulled from place to place in the story, text appears and disappears independent of our ability to capture meaning.

Or something else entirely?  Post links in the comments, please – I’d love to see what else is out there on this new frontier for storytelling.

I suspect that one thing new media has to offer YA fiction is the opportunity for young readers to themselves be authors and tell their own stories. Of all the “studies areas” out there (critical race studies, women’s studies, glbt studies, etc. etc. ad nauseam), “Childhood Studies” and “Children’s literature studies” are the only ones wherein the objects of the studies are not the authors of the texts under consideration.


One thought on “Telling Stories in the Digital Age

  1. Young adult fiction certainly needs critical/academic attention. I have just published a YA novel, Angela 1: Starting Over. It attempts something seldom seen: a positive, mature, loving character at the center of the story who sets off all kinds of trouble by insisting on being herself. To learn more, please click on my name and follow the link to my web site. I also invite you to read my blog at Thanks!

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