Sunday, February 19, 2012

Idea Garage Sale: Imposters Online

Good lord, I'd completely forgotten this one.

Working my way backwards through the notes folder, I find this sequence:

Online - Imposters, Online. Kids creating fake personae. Consequences? Could be humor (my handwriting is so bad I first read this as human) but online antics wont' do it. Cyberstalkers. Margaret wouldn't get a parody.

"Margaret" means Margaret McElderry; this note dates from before the realization that we had lost our literary synch and I wouldn't have any more McElderry books. And I assumed she wouldn't get the parody because what I had in mind would require an internet-savvy reader, and Margaret was probably coming too late to that game to inhabit it at the level that parody really serves. I have strong ideas about parody, you see - it's not enough to poke fun at something; the fun must poke sympathetically at the truth. It must be the laughter of equals. Only gamers can write good gaming humor; only children's authors get the most hilarious kidlit biz jokes.

Actually, as witness the fact that I immediately dropped this dashed-off notion, I probably come a little too late to the internet game to do a full-on parody, either. I hate to upgrade and am always behind the technological curve. Besides, developments in the tech and culture are still rapid enough that print can't keep up with them; a good online parody would almost have to be published online. I believe I had in mind something along the lines of Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, with kids instead of double agents; but nothing ever gelled.

The same is true of the thriller implied by the word "Cyberstalking." We're bound to get internet-based thrillers at some point; attempts have already been made at them; but the essence of the internet is the network of folks sitting, alone and not alone, at their keyboards. The kinds of thriller skills that have served so well, so long fail us in this setting; networking is inaction-based. Thrillers with net elements, like (this is the earliest one I can think of) Nancy Werlin's excellent The Killer's Cousin use it as a sidelight. It does not drive the plot, though it may help it, or illuminate a character.

Cyberbullying is in the news, so no doubt we'll see problem novels on the subject soon. But will they be internet novels in the same sense that Swallows and Amazons is a sailing/camping story?

It is possible that the only way to write such a novel will be in complex epistolary form; tracking the plot through e-mails, blogs, newsgroups; the action occurring in flamewars, ignore buttons, and sock puppets; the characters trolls and white knights?

Actually it may be that the key element is in that temporary misreading of my own handwriting; "human" for "Humor." What is passing for human on the internet? ETs? Cats? Fairies? Ghosts? What does it want? Where does that take us?

Still not gelling for me.

But somebody'll do it, sometime. Somebody'll figure it out, hit big, and then there'll be a whole new subgenre to deal with.


  1. I think you mean LOCKED INSIDE, not THE KILLER'S COUSIN. Thank you, Peni!

  2. Well, if you're going to be consistently excellent you have to expect to confuse people. I believe I was thinking of the X-Files boards as a character illuminant, but of course that was not a major plot feature.

  3. Oh, you're right. I clean forgot I did that in Killer's Cousin.