Saturday, November 15, 2014

Writing a novel: Month 7

This month I made modest progress on my book, finishing a few chapters.  I stalled for a bit while writing a chat log between the narrator and protagonist.  The narrator lies a lot, so the chat logs serve the purpose of being more reliably true.

Let me take this opportunity to talk about one of my major inspirations.  Let me tell you about Homestuck.  Explaining Homestuck to people is an exercise in absurdity and futility, so much so that "Let me tell you about Homestuck" has become a meme.  But it will help that I'm not actually trying to convince anyone to read Homestuck, I'm just trying to explain what it is.  (See the author's explanation for a more persuasive effort.)

Homestuck is a webcomic, and an epic satire of video games and the internet.  Unlike most webcomics, it makes full use of its online medium, including animations, music, hyperlink shenanigans, flash games, and more.  And Homestuck is really really long, longer than the entirety of Harry Potter, and more dense too.  Despite the high barrier to entry, it is extremely popular, with a very active fandom.  Most notably, Homestuck fans were able to raise 2.5 million dollars for a spinoff video game.

I've been reading Homestuck since the beginning in 2009, although I don't really participate in the fandom.  I honestly think Homestuck is one of the greatest works of my generation.  But I'm not trying to sell you on it, so I don't feel the need to explain all many great things about it.  I'm just going to pull out one aspect that I find inspirational.

Homestuck captures the modern communication age better than any other work of fiction I have ever read.  Homestuck is about a bunch of kids who live across the world, but who can nonetheless be close friends, through the medium of instant chat.  They are all excited to play a video game which promises, among other things, to provide a means for them to meet each other.  As someone who spends a lot of the time on the internet, that's touching.

Aside from that, all the characters, the humor, and the entire aesthetic of the comic has clearly been shaped by the internet age.  It's a world where people can have really obscure hobbies, where writing style blends into personal identity, and where ideas are often imported from the fandom.

The ways that other works of fiction deal with the communication age doesn't even come close.  Just think of all those movie plots that rely on no one having a cell phone.  If we can't handle cell phones, how will we ever handle smartphones?  And think of all those google-search and email montages.  Who thought those were a good idea?

Even cyberpunk.  I haven't read much cyberpunk, because it kind of makes me angry, but from what I can tell, it's based on a bunch of tropes that were attempts to predict what the computer age would look like in the future.  I read part of Snow Crash (and then stopped, because the hacker hero archetype really annoys me), which envisioned an internet a bit like Second Life.  That's nice, but I'd like to see more fiction with the benefit of hindsight.

I started talking about Homestuck because I mentioned that I was writing some chat logs.  Honestly, the idea of fictional chat logs is so closely associated with Homestuck for me, that it makes me feel like an imitator.  And a poor one at that, since I'm pretty sure I'll never be as good a writer as Andrew Hussie.  On the other hand, I would really like to see modern communication and its aesthetics to become more common in fiction, to the point where it no longer feels like an imitation of any particular work.