Ah, publishing. You know I love to write about it. And when I heard that the group Code Meets Print was planning a three-session seminar series with some of the top thinkers who are trying to help publishing evolve into the digital age, including Richard Nash and the guys behind The Atavist, you knew I signed up double quick.
The first session, on Monday, was with Richard Nash, VP of Community and Content of Small Demons, Founder of Cursor, and Publisher of Red Lemonade. I first became aware of Nash when he was at Soft Skull, an indie publishing house that was doing a lot to provide a robust alternative to the usual writer’s journey into the cold realities of big publishing. He’s now working on a variety of different digital publishing initiatives, including Red Lemonade, an online community for writers.
Nash provided an engaging overview of the history of publishing–including citing Adobe Pagemaker as one of the unsung heroes of the digital publishing revolution, but one thing he said stuck with me:
The other artistic form that book most resemble is video games. Books, like video games, reward iteration.
I cite it here not because I agree with the statement necessarily–I think some books reward iteration more than others (think of Nabokov’s Pale Fire vs. some bad Stephen King knockoff, for instance). I note it because it’s an interesting way of thinking about storytelling in the digital age.
Back when I was a reader for Dimension Films, I had the distinction (and unexpected pleasure) of having read literally hundreds of pieces of genre storytelling, from scripts to books to comic books. It was always my sense then that comic books were amongst the worst starting point for the narrative structure of a film. I would finish a script based on a comic book and think: that’s it? That was just a setup, now where’s the rest of that story?
I think it’s because comic books thrive on a serial existence, unfolding in many more “chapters” than a book ever could. Unlike with video games, they aren’t so focused on advancement per se.
Advancement, mastery, repetition. It’s an interesting way to think about narrative structure–especially when it entails using the kind of variables and interactivity that can be achieved with web publishing technology.
In his session, Nash argued for respecting the integrity of book as book, not book with embedded videos or links or anything else that could stand to make it gimmicky.
“The book is the apotheosis of technology, but we’ve spent so much time with it that we’ve sanded it down like a chair,” Nash said during his talk.
For my part, I’m anxious to look at the way the container for storytelling can and should evolve along with the tools that are making creative expression more possible for more people.
The next session is of Code Meets Print class is on Monday, and there are still spots available. Check out more information here.