And Now, The 2050 POE Prize Winner For…

By the middle of this century, the successful fiction novel is going to involve a lot more than just words-on-the-page. Already, graphic novels are becoming animated and eBooks are reading the stories aloud. It won’t be long before Harry Potter flies out of our tablet in a hologram while J. K. Rowling sits on our digital screen and read to us, her universal audience of one.

Actual printed matter — the stuff of ink and paper — in the future novel is going to be strictly cover art and internal illustrations suitable for framing. The Author’s contribution to this piece of art will be a caption of the very essence of the image itself; the words that created it. But, sadly, that’s the only text of the author’s we will read in 2050 ink. “Limited Edition” will lose all meaning, right along with “Remainder Bin.” Soon, “Deluxe Edition” will mean that very same artwork only signed by the author and/or illustrator(s), and also the animator(s), holograph artists and voice artists who will help produce the POE Prize (Pulitzer-Oscar-Emmy) winners in 2050. Print versions, where they exist at all, will be expensive pre-ordered Collector Editions bound in (by then) genuine Corinthian Naugahyde, or they will be biodegradable, print-on-demand paperbacks that, in a pinch, can double as toilet paper.

All of these added features take talents beyond what most of today’s writers possess, or want to possess. But collaboration of such talents will be the keys to the kingdom within a few years.

Why? Because it’s more entertaining! You can get a glimpse of the future now. Anomaly, has an app that produces short, holographic animations that jump off the pages of the printed book. It’s surreal. It’s half way to the future.

Unlike biographers and historians, fiction writers are strictly in the entertainment business. We don’t seek to teach or preach to a known audience, we must create our own. The better we entertain, the bigger the audience. Simple as that. Biographers and historians have no such concerns, but then, they don’t have their readers sitting on the edge of their chair, either.

Funny, if we look back in time we can clearly see our future. One hundred years ago, new fiction writers got their stories serialized in magazines first. Readers had to wait until the next issue for the next installment. The author was tasked with keeping their audience in suspense and caring enough about what happens next to buy the next issue. Both Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Rice Burroughs got their start this way, among many others. The complete novel version would come out the following year, or not, depending on magazine sales. Only successful novels were then followed by a movie or play adaptation.

First you’d get a little and like, then you’d get a lot and love it, then you’d get it all in-your-face but sometimes want to spit.

Blogs, tablets, home theater. Same play, different stage. Today, if we want the wider audience to swallow our story and feel satisfied, we have to write to resonate in every format, else what the author sees is not what the wider audience gets.

And that’s the rub. Often, the audio and visual versions of novels do not resonate with those who have already read the book. The author has to take control of his/her works before this point. Inflections can’t be out of place in tomorrow’s digital novel. Liberties can’t be allowed that change what the author intended for so-called creative license. Authors had little care in the matter 100 years ago, when fiction was still in its adolescence. By the time the movie or play adaptation came out, they’d long since moved on, high on their next novel.

Only a handful of authors thought of their works in terms of perpetuity. Edgar Rice Burroughs did. Arthur Conan Doyle did not. Both were hallmark visionaries, yet history tells their personal tales vastly different.

Some of Conan Doyle’s adaptations have been spectacular, like the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes series of several years ago that starred the late Jeremy Brett. Doyle would have been proud of that one. But most other renditions of the world’s first forensics sleuth — and there are many — do Doyle a disservice, or at least the author’s intent, leaving the viewer who hasn’t read the original stories to wonder what all the fuss was about 100 years ago. The original Sherlock Holmes was a bipedal bloodhound, everything Doyle wrote centered on that singular aspect. It was Holmes’ superior intellect and cunning methods of deduction that kept readers clamoring for more. Yet, modern adaptations brush Holmes’s methodical pace, his creative thinking, and sometimes even his flair for the dramatic ending under the carpet. For the last 50 years, contemporary stories have centered on Sherlock’s lack of love life (Irene Adler; The woman in A Scandal in Belgravia), or his fetish with cocaine–legal at the time– in (The Seven-Per-Cent Solution). If you’d only read or watch the newer versions you’d think Holmes was just an insensitive, bi-polar drug addict with sexual hang ups, and Doyle’s estate has been unable to stop any of it.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, on the other hand, controlled all aspects of his writing: creating, publishing, distribution, artwork, and adaptations into other formats, by mid-career. Tarzan hasn’t changed one iota. Burroughs was honored with a U.S. postal stamp to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Tarzan, and the ape-man was still as handsome as he was in 1912. Some adaptations have been laughable, true, but Tarzan has gone agelessly into a second life in the funny papers and on the silver screen, and license was sold by Burroughs and his estate for every one of these versions. His estate enjoys that foresight to this day with Andy Briggs’ “New Adventures” of Tarzan stories, and a new, subscriber-based, weekly online comic strip of the man who had a six pack long before Budweiser.

Will fiction authors have the vision to get collaboration right this time around?

Will the Author — the Creator of the very essence of the story itself — finally get to conduct the orchestra in this land of digital perpetuity? Or just continue to play first violin?

Depends on what tale we tell I suppose, and how well we show it to the widest audience.

April’s Blog: Show Don’t Tell. It’s the first rule any new novelist learns, but it means more than just opening up the reader’s eyes. Next month, we’ll look at how writing to the reader’s other senses can often paint a more vivid picture than the eyes can see, and how that raises the temperature of today’s suspense novels.


    • Book Lover on August 29, 2014 at 5:21 pm
    • Reply

    Phil, you have an interesting take on the future of literature. Also I remember reading James A. Michener’s “Sayonara” which was serialized in a national magazine. After seeing the movie in 1957, I was disappointed in the typical, Hollywood ending that wasn’t true to Michener’s story. I wonder how often an author is satisfied with the movie based on his book.

  1. The internet and all the resources within has given authors much more information and confidence to claim writing as their own. The interactive options are now what online readers expect, and who says that can’t be entertaining for the author as well?

    • Kelly Bixby on March 24, 2014 at 4:28 pm
    • Reply

    Hi Phil,
    Your article reminded me of a cassette tape I used to play during long car rides with my toddlers. It was a rendition of Robert Louis Stevenson’s _Treasure Island_ and had various actors, music, and sound effects all contributing to the recording. Extremely entertaining and more realistic than comparable Disney tapes we also listened to. Thanks for the heads-up on the future of writing. Btw, I hope the biography I’m writing does keep readers on the edge of their seats!

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