Where will stories go?

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.


English: A tape measure. Deutsch: Massband

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.


Gold locket with the  hair of Queen Marie Anto...
Gold locket with the hair of Queen Marie Antoinette (Photo credit: Kotomicreations)

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.

English: Electronically aided drawing of paved...

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?

48 thoughts on “Where will stories go?”

  1. Ummmm…YES!!

    The not knowing is half the fun! I can see some and/or all of your scenarios occurring.

    I still recall my biggest bubble burst ever…in 9th grade World History.

    “Throughout History the one thing that can be proven is that we are all the same, at our core.”

    Mr. Thatcher KILLED me!
    Here I always thought myself different…

    Fortunately, I never believed much of what he said.

    Believe it or not, there’s a point to this…Yes, it is possible that sooner than later we will have “one voice.” Such as bards were basically the same, what differed was the tone, pitch, delivery…And even then, you could find some that resembled one another, I believe…

    Thus, one, perhaps two basic Stories and modes…IMHO 😉


  2. Thought provoking, and I agree with a couple of the posters above. If the work is quality, people will read it. Writing styles have always evolved and changed, and they’ll continue to do so, but people still want/need the greater connection provided by literature. 🙂


  3. I feel that short attention span is not so big a problem when the story is good and well-crafted. If the story is engaging, the reader will follow no matter how big it is. If anything, I feel that technology will help develop the art of story-telling because readers are now more demanding and selective which forces writers to improve their writing techniques to create even more effective stories. This is a great post with excellent points.


  4. An intriguing notion; some tales will stay the same, as certain genres have definite rules. But so much is open to interpretation; I’ve been wanting to start a sequel to a novel that employed answering machines as part of the narrative. But how to implement instant messaging or texting as viable prose has been my stumbling block. That’s just an example, but one of these days I will sort that issue. Great post!


    1. No problem. Although I must confess that I thought you were demonstrating the repetition I said we might find in texts of the future even as you were commenting since the comments are similar but not identical. 🙂


  5. I think that Dave’s right – less rambling exposition (which is unfortunate for me, since it’s one of my specialties). More dialogue, I suspect. Dialogue and lots of white space, which will translate into the “snippets” of talk we’re getting used to through social media. Not to mention, carry us back to early humanoid days when we passed on stories through oral tradition.


  6. I think Dave’s right, there will be less “rambling exposition” (which is unfortunate for me, since it’s one of my specialties), but instead stories will be told primarily through dialogue — lots of white space & dialogue. This will mesh w/ the snippets of “talk” that folks are used to getting through social media. It will also take us back to human roots where stories were all passed down orally, Thanks for the post – always thoughtful.


  7. Dialogue, I think. I agree w/ Dave there will be far less rambling exposition (which, sadly, is one of my specialties) and instead we’ll see lots of white space and stories told primarily through dialogue. That incorporates the short attention span and the “snippets” people are getting used to in social media. Thanks for the post.


  8. Hmmm…I don’t know about the rest…but this made me feel a little more bummed out and quite frankly a little scared..lol. I do understand where your thought is coming from..and I can “see” it as you explain it…(probably why I felt a little more bummed out) I just had a thought! Did you know that in Singapore…a child wouldn’t know what a real chicken looked, felt and sounded like unless they went to the zoo? The only chicken they see are those that have been already slaughtered and prepackaged in the store! I wonder if a child would, in the future, have to go to a museum to see what an actual book looked like.. 😦 Sigh…..


    1. I know. But there’s a “real” chicken out there for every package. But what if we think that a “book” is something that conveys words? Then a Kindle is as much a “book” too. But I know what you mean. 🙂


  9. thought provoking! I myself have wondered how an author would write a romance novel where the couple meets online. I have yet to read one like that, but i wouldn’t be surprised if someone wrote one soon one day.


  10. Edgar Allen Poe wrote an essay that included focus on compositional length in literature, and basically he promoted writing that can be read in ‘one sitting’. Back in those days, people read a lot more, so with modern readers, their ‘sittings’ tend to be much, much shorter. IMHO, readers aren’t looking for shorter books, but shorter chapters, paragraphs, sentences. Great post.


  11. I for one dont like to purchase a book that is short. I prefer 300-500 pages. I think novels are dead. Standalone novels. Authors rarely publish one book. It’s all about series now. People want a continuation. Sadly, linguists is taking a hit with each generation. Alot of YA series are so poorly written yet readers flock to it. I predict in a few years scifi will completely take over the book industry. Between technology and the supernatural ( this is reflected in tv series as well) it what people relate to now. Memories, regular fiction writing… it’s so hard to become a successful author in those fields.


  12. My engagement in a book increases the longer I read it (both in terms of consecutive time and overall time), so I am not certain the shortening attention span will produce shorter works; I think it might cull slightly rambling exposition, leaving those writers who can stay tight enough to keep the reader engaged. While reading of longer works might occur in shorter bursts, if the reader is engaged they will put in a longer series of bursts to finish a longer work.


  13. Attention spans may be shorter, but I think our stories just need to get better. Wasn’t everyone lamenting kids didn’t read anymore before Harry Potter came out, then suddenly 10 yr olds were reading 500+ page books. I think for any of us aspiring writers, it may be easier to break into the market with a shorter first book, but if our writing is good, length and attention span will work together just fine.


  14. Younger writers will come along with new style which will change how we view older books and the literary scene will evolve from that I think. Whatever happens it’ll be one heck of a slow moving rollercoaster.


      1. The advent of e-books has in all fairness changed the field of play relatively quickly but I think each generations way of writing and the changes to style will be a gradual change, into what I hope is not a decline.


  15. Our world has definitely changed, for good or ill, because of technology. One thing I agree with, as I’m currently working on such a project, is how stories may not have an end, just parts to be told over the span of years, becoming epic tales either in scale or theme. Technology has also given so many people the freedom to tell their stories, whereas before, only a seeming elite group could only find an audience with their written work.
    Events as written today have changed, but only if we let them. That’s the beauty of writing, you are in control. You determine how things unfold, and at what pace. Just because technology can connect with people around the world, doesn’t mean we can’t imagine ways to remain isolated if the story requires.
    Our imaginations can be either hindered or expanded by the technlogy around us, and in our stories. It is up to us, the writers, to determine which way it goes.
    Enjoyable blog. 🙂


  16. One thing we know is that storytelling isn’t going to vanish. We hear a lot of noise about changes in story medium – print? disc? digital? cloud – but somehow, someway, the human race will still get their stories. Personally I can see some shift towards more episodic methods, as was predominant as recently as late 19th and early 20 th century. But will that be the only way forward? I’m not sure.


      1. I think many authors can take a lesson from Hemingway, who wrote simply and directly, counting on his readers to fill in a lot of the detail. It’s called the ‘iceberg theory’ or ‘theory of omission’; I think of it as an exercise in word economy through subtraction becuase as I understand it the writer leaves out detail the reader may already know about. Like a “dive bar”, “deserted street”, “busy school” – the reader will picture tehse in their mind just by saying the short phrase and makes for quick transition through the scene and dialog. This also helps keep writers out of the trap of protracted scenery and descriptions. If it doesn’t move the story, cut it. Strunk & White (The Elements of Style) advise “Omit needless words.” Okay, I’m rambling. 🙂 This post is very thought-provoking and insightful


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