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Monday, March 20, 2006

A FRACTION TOO MUCH FICTION? The Blog Fiction Debate by Lynda

Remember the diary you kept as a teenager? Or the one you have now? Where you record your most intimate thoughts. Your frustrations. The turbulence of your everyday life.

Imagine publishing your regular diary entries straight onto the internet. Imagine having people all over the globe read your regular entries and give you instantaneous written comment on them. Well, that’s essentially what blogging is.

Now imagine that some comments you receive are accusing you of making your blog up. Or consider the reverse: you have made up all these thoughts and doings in the guise of a fictional character and your readers believe the character is real. In the latter case, you are creating blog fiction - but are you morally obliged to clarify this to your audience?

There is some debate about how many blogs are fact, fiction or a blend of both, and whether a blog’s fictional status should be public knowledge. Let’s track a strand of this debate and watch it arrive full circle.

In an article in 2004, digital writer and commentator Tim Wright observed, “there are only a handful of writers… experimenting with the idea of the fictional blog… (who) have been careful to avoid the accusation that they are deliberately wasting the reader's time”.

Wright links this behaviour to an infamous online hoax. Kaycee, a teenager dying of cancer, kept an online blog of her daily struggle with the disease. When Kaycee’s mother revealed in the blog that Kaycee had succumbed to the disease, there was mass grief and sympathy from the blog’s online readers until some sleuthing by doubting readers revealed Kaycee was not a real person.

In the post-Kaycee era, the definition of “blog fiction” is up for debate, or at least elastic, depending on the blog in question.

Take the example of She's A Flight Risk. The blog opens with:

On March 2, 2003 at 4:12 pm, I disappeared.
My name is isabella v.
I’m twentysomething and I am an international fugitive.
My name is isabella v. But it isn’t.

In his article Wright identifies She’s A Flight Risk as a fictional blog pitching itself as fact. But he argues that because of its fantastical fugitive element we don’t connect to it on the same emotional depth as we would to the blog of a teenage cancer victim: “it is not critical for the reader to know or even wonder whether this person is real or not.”

Wright’s observations have been questioned on Grand Text Auto’s online forum. How can we ever be certain of a blog being fact or fiction? How many fictional blogs are being passed off as reality? It could be thousands. Indeed, as discerning digital users and ever evolving in our scepticism, do we need blogs to declare their fictional status?

In this forum, Wright acknowledged these criticisms. And in an interesting twist he posted:

BTW I’ve been contacted by the author of She’s A Flight Risk to assure me that she’s a real person that that (sic) her blog is not fiction at all. Details of my correspondence with her can be found at the trAce forum.

Isabelle’s initial comment to Wright was:

…it is pretty clear that you haven't bothered to read my diaries (even if you are quite happy to critique them). "...funded by various online share deals..." ? What ever does that mean?…Certainly it bears no resemblance to anything I've ever written. As for failing to make attempts to have people "believe" me- that's not why I write…I do so love how various reviewers constantly call my work "fiction" without even…bothering to contact me…for an interview.

Wright and Isabelle’s resulting conversation ended amicably. But it seems Isabelle fights a continuing battle to prove to the blog community that she is real. Two years on from her protests to Wright, Blogfic lists She’s A Flight Risk under the heading “Other Blogfic”. In the end, we have to ask ourselves if we should denounce Isabella’s story because we are unsure it is fact or fiction? Or merely enjoy the ride she - or the author - is sharing with us? Perhaps we have to face facts about ourselves as digital consumers. We can convince ourselves of anything without hard, cold facts. That is both the delight and downfall of our own imaginations. Is getting duped by Kaycee’s story any different to being taken in by a convincing chain letter? We have developed scepticism for traditional media – “don’t believe everything you read”. The blog fiction debate is simply a result of us learning to apply this adage to a brave new medium.

Sources and Bibliography

http://trace.ntu.ac.uk/Process/index.cfm?article=91 accessed 7 March 2006
http://rootnode.org/article.php?sid=26 accessed 11 March 2006
http://shes.aflightrisk.org/ accessed 9, 12, 13, 18 March 2006
http://trace.ntu.ac.uk/Process/index.cfm?article=91 accessed 7 March 2006
http://grandtextauto.gatech.edu/2004/01/29/blog-fiction/ accessed 7 March 2006
http://grandtextauto.gatech.edu/2004/01/29/blog-fiction/ created February 2, 2004, posting by Tim Wright
http://trace.ntu.ac.uk/forums/messageview.cfm?catid=6&threadid=843 created Monday February 02, 2004
http://www.blogfic.com/ accessed 18 March 2006

http://www.blogfic.com/category/defining-blogfic/ created Friday, April 29th, 2005
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blog_fiction last updated 29 January 2006
http://www.google.com.au/ accessed 7, 9, 11-13, 18 March 2006
http://fictionblogs2.blogspot.com/ accessed 9,10 March 2006
http://www.geocities.com/matthewrpratter/ created 29 December 2004
http://reasonsyouwillhateme.blogspot.com/ accessed 7,9 March 2006


  • This is a thoughtful look at some of the issues around blogs -- and you're right, we should be approaching all media with scepticism.

    Do you think that all 'personal' writing is in some way fictive? That writers 'perform' themselves in writing, whether it is weekend newspaper columnists or memoirists?

    It's worth having a look at Online Caroline
    http://www.onlinecaroline.com/ for a 'fictional' blog-ish thing that shows some interesting possibilities of using the confessional personal tone of some blogs along with the implied personal interaction of webcams, email, and e-cards. E;g It uses emails to update you on the progress of the main character and to make you feel guilty about checking back in on to the web site. It turned out to be compellingly real for many users... some people even phoned the police when the protagonists was being 'robbed' apparently in fromt of their eyes on the webcam.

    By Blogger Administration, at 11:16 pm  

  • I meant to also add -- good way to start a bit of online writing. You've got to suck people in right from the first sentence and you did that v. successfully.

    By Blogger Administration, at 11:20 pm  

  • Your discussion of this issue reminds me of the infamous Helen Darville (aka Helen Demidenko)and her fake authorial persona for the novel, 'The Hand that signed the Paper'. I suppose the questions are; Would you enjoy the story even if you knew the author was a fake? Does the author's identity affect the work?
    It's tricky. I enjoy good fiction no matter who writes it and authors write under pseudonyms all the time. I don't like being deceived though and, I think that the reader is entitled to know whether the author's name is real or a pseudonym. Do you think that we should we invent a new label, 'hoaxfiction'to cover the category you discussed?

    By Blogger semiluddite, at 12:34 pm  

  • For me, not knowing whether a minor detail such as a writer's identity is fact, a-little-bit fact, no fact at all is one of the most attractive qualities of the Web. It's fun to be unsure: Am I reading the words of a thirty-something NRA-supporting Republican housewife, or are they really the words of a balding, incarcerated septagenarian with body-hair issues. The wide swathes of grey that the Net gives life almost compensates for the mystery that was lost when Mass was translated from Latin.

    By Blogger Lara, at 6:20 pm  

  • I really enjoyed reading this, Lynda. Fact v's fiction has long been an issue of contention. Recently, for example, James Frey's book, 'A Million Little Pieces' caused plenty of debate when it was revealed Frey had fabricated sections of his book. Readers were outraged and bookshops had to refund unhappy customers! Personally, the question 'fact or fiction?' is one that intrigues me, but the pleasure of reading the story, in my mind, should not be spoilt by focussing on this element. Thanks for a good insight into blog writing...

    By Blogger Nicole, at 5:49 pm  

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