Blogs don’t have marketing budgets, or publicity campaigns for their launch. They build their audience gradually through reputation and word of mouth. This means that they need to be able to pick up readers at any point in the story.
Think about the challenge this provides: every single post has to have the power to pull in new readers, readers who have no sense of the story so far. Critics often talk of the importance of the first line of a novel, or debate the best first lines of all time, but viewed in this context the novelists have it easy: they only have to hook you in once.
Of course the back story is there in a blog, tucked away safely in the archives. But while new readers are free to delve into the back story, and the writer can help them out by linking new posts back to relevant archive posts, it cannot be relied upon. By their nature blogs exist in the moment, and their readers want to dip into them daily for nuggets of news, wisdom or entertainment.
The conventional elements of storytelling struggle to have impact when rendered in blog form. She’s a flight risk made a bit of a splash in the media, with the debate over whether it was real or fictional adding fuel to the fire, but its reliance on a traditional plot is unsatisfying. ‘Blognovel’ Plan B is a far more intriguing writing experiment with the blog form, with its emphasis on multidirectional story telling and a poetic, stream of consciousness style. Jumping on board Plan B is a far less daunting prospect than joining the adventures of the international fugitive in Flight Risk.
But if these are interesting experiments in a niche blog world, what is it that makes a break out hit? Just as Belle was the buzz hit a couple of years ago, the Secret Blog of a TV Controller (Aged 33 and ¾) is currently the darling of the UK media in-crowd. While the satirical nature of TV Controller gives it an added advantage (a daily dose of bitchy comedy never goes amiss), what it has in common with Belle is an instantly gettable, simple top line. With ‘The diary of a London call girl’, or ‘the secret blog of Britain’s youngest TV controller’, even new readers know exactly what to expect. A two-dimensional character, who doesn’t go on a transformational journey is actually an advantage in blog fiction. Stories confined to one or two posts are the ideal length of narrative.
There is a way for fiction blogs to have a longer overarching narrative, and it is one that neatly ties in to the nature of the medium: linking the fortune of the character to real world events. TV Controller does this extremely effectively, giving us an imagined view of the chaos taking place on the sixth floor of the BBC as scandals rock the corporation. Since these are things the reader already knows about, they need little explanation in comparison to a made up back story, and they also give a blog an appealing injection of authenticity and relevance.
I’m sure there are other as yet unknown ways to successfully harness the blog medium to tell stories, but whatever they are, they will undoubtedly work with the constraints of the medium, not fight against them.