This is my space for idle speculation. What’s cool about speculation in this space is that it can be really idle in the true sense. My thoughts don’t need to be developed beyond the heated coffee shop conversation stage, nor need be backed by too much evidence.
From that totally secure vantage point, I decided to rattle around randomly through literary history in my battered, quirky time-machine gathering patterns that might tell us which way our stories might go in the future.
Will stories become longer or shorter? Though our attention span is decreasing, we’re becoming liberated from the constraints of print and paper and certain other costs related to marketing. There’s the pull towards shortening to hold attention wrestling out with the seeming possibility of infinite length.
Shall we simply become episodic, like our great old epics, every great story spawning multiple versions amongst multiple groups of people as our stories travel super-fast through the internet? Not just sequels and prequels but the great Mac Donald Burger stories adapting to different tastes?
Or is a single convention (regarding myths, patterns, word length, structure) going to establish itself totally with time so that the future will just be an image of the past with some creative distortions? That’s not to imply that the past was simple but that the dominant ways in which we’ve learnt to imagine the past make it appear simple. The simplicity leads to restrictive conventions through which we imagine the future. The conventions could get very effective strengthened by the speed and reach of the internet.
Obviously, things that can happen in stories will change with time. Plots will no longer hinge on the colour of hair found in someone’s locket or have the chance to depict scenes with tragic irony when, say, family members prepare for an impending visit of a loved one from a foreign land while news of his death travels by letter via ship.
But new ways of life have posed new challenges for writers already. How do you depict action between characters when people interact not face to face but over chat or social networking? How do you depict people living lives in a certain geographical place but existing mentally somewhere else where they have social lives with friends, family, even neighbours via the internet?
Some things will become simpler of course. The hit of a single “reply all” button by mistake on email alone can eliminate the need to depict several gossipy aunts and gentlemen in pubs as plot devices that reveal all.
Competition from multiple windows
People are increasingly flitting back and forth between different opened windows. These can trigger very different ways of thinking simultaneously in the same reader.
Will repetition, as in oral traditions or in epics become more common? Will every paragraph attempt to become a complete nugget of information by itself? Will multiple endings coexist? Will writers themselves form less linear and more divergent thought patterns in their own writing flitting back and forth between windows in their own writing itself?
How will our imagination change as we read and tell the new stories of the future?