Since trying to grow my blog over the past few months, I’ve been thinking a lot about the types of things people blog about.1 Looking at blogs as a whole, there is a rather rich tapestry of topics, and room for almost any kind of niche you can imagine. Yet, the one niche that seems to be almost non-existent are blogs in which people actually post original works of fiction. Almost every blog post is exclusively non-fiction, and fiction is severely marginalized – left to the obscure fringes of the internet. But why is it this way?
For most of the twentieth century short stories were very popular with the public, and there were hundreds of magazines that published them. Some writers made their entire living writing only short stories, and others used short stories as a way to break into the industry and eventually obtain a book deal. However, over the years, especially the last few decades, magazines publishing short stories has dwindled to almost zero. It’s always sad when I see a magazine rack with ten magazines about weightlifting and none that publish exclusively fiction.
Yet magazines in general have been on the decline, and people are starting to read more and more on the internet. Blogs have taken advantage of this, and in some ways have replaced certain types of writing that people used to get from magazines or newspapers. Instead of reading an op-ed column about a recent political issue, now you can read your favorite political blogger’s opinions on the subject.
Therefore, one might think this new age of blogging might be a perfect stage for a resurgence of fiction. Since writing has become more democratized, people should be taking their short stories and independently publishing them for the world to see. Yet, that hasn’t been the case. There hasn’t been a resurgence of the short story on the internet. While there are some blogs out there that have fiction on them, there aren’t really any ‘popular’ blogs that regularly publish original fiction. I can’t point to any famous writer that got his start blogging out short stories. It just isn’t a thing.
I think part of the reason for this is that people seem to naturally gravitate towards non-fiction stories over fiction stories. There is something about reality that interests people, much more than fiction. Here is a recent story about a man who lost his life savings playing a carnival game. This rather silly story has gotten shared all over the internet, and people want to read about it. Yet, if a writer had posted a fictional short story about a man who lost his life savings playing a carnival game, very few people would read it. It may be an interesting idea, but it becomes exponentially more interesting if you say this actually happened, in reality. Reality is king.
Another reason people prefer non-fiction is simply the way people read on the internet. There is a ‘get to the point and move on’ type of reading I think many of us do. We see an interesting headline, click on the story, skim to get the main jist of what the story is about, and move on. I’m guilty of this, and the internet lends itself very well to this type of consumption. However, a short story is not about getting to the point, or sharing an interesting nugget of information. Short stories are meant to be read and thought about, and they call out for the person to pay close attention and not simply skim to get the main plot. Fiction is more about contemplative reading, while non-fiction is more about information.
Yet, there is contemplative non-fiction out there, longer ‘think’ pieces that are not meant to merely convey information. These still get shared around and people read them. There are famous bloggers that produce these types of work. There are also services like Instapaper and Pocket that allow people to time shift when they read things, so they can save a longer piece and read it whenever they have time. Thus, there is precedent and infrastructure for people reading longer more engrossing stories on the internet, it just is almost solely used for non-fiction writing.
This makes me think that maybe fiction on the internet is viable, but just hasn’t been properly tapped yet. While people tend to prefer non-fiction, there are certain things that will get them to read fiction. One is if they know the writer – so if Stephen King starts a blog with new short stories, it will definitely become very popular. Another is if it’s a genre they enjoy. I think something like a science fiction blog with original short stories has the potential to become successful, if done right. The same for other popular genres like mystery or young adult fiction. People will read fiction if they have some connection to the writer or the type of fiction that is being produced.2
I think a great idea would be for someone to create an internet based fiction magazine, maybe something akin to ‘The Magazine.’ For it to be successful though, it would need two key things. First, it would need at least one or two ‘known’ fiction writers to contribute short stories in its first few issues. This would initially put it on people’s radar and give people incentive to read the other stories from more unknowns. Second, it would need to be targeted to a particular audience. I don’t think it would necessarily have to be a specific genre, but maybe it could target ‘geeks’ and include some sci-fi, a little fantasy, and just stories that might appeal to that type of person. If if had those two things going for it, I think it could be successful.
My dream would be for a successful fiction magazine to start a movement of people blogging more fiction and hopefully it would become more normal to have fiction blogs. Right now I’m sure there are plenty of bloggers who have fiction pieces laying around that they just don’t think to publish on their sites. However, if blogging fiction became more accepted, these might start to appear, and blogging fiction in general would gain in popularity. I realize it will never be anywhere close to the popularity non-fiction enjoys, but I think there should at least be a small but dedicated niche in the blogosphere for fiction.
1. I will be using blog as a verb, sorry for anyone that may offend.↩
2. This is likely the reason fan fiction is one of the only types of short fiction that has had much success of on the internet. People will read stories from strangers as long as they know the characters and universe they take place in.↩