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A cell phone novel, or mobile phone novel (Japanese: 携帯小説 Hepburn: keitai shousetsu, Chinese: 手機小說; pinyin: shŏujī xiǎoshuō), is a literary work originally written on a cellular phone via text messaging. This type of literature originated in Japan, where it has become a popular literary genre. However, its popularity has also spread to other countries internationally, especially to China, United States, Germany, and South Africa. Chapters usually consist of about 70-100 words each due to character limitations on cell phones.
Phone novels started out primarily read and authored by young women on the subject of romantic fiction such as relationships, lovers, rape, love triangles, and pregnancy. However, mobile phone novels are gaining worldwide popularity on broader subjects. Rather than appearing in printed form, the literature is typically sent directly to the reader via email, SMS text message, or subscription through an online writing and sharing website, chapter by chapter. Japanese Internet ethos regarding mobile phone novels is dominated by pen names and forged identities. Therefore, identities of the Japanese authors of mobile phone novels are rarely disclosed.
Japanese cell phone novels were also downloaded in short installments and run on handsets as Java-based mobile applications in three different formats: WMLD, JAVA and TXT. Maho i-Land is the largest Japanese cell phone novel site that carries more than a million titles, mainly novice writers, all which are available for free. Maho iLand provides templates for blogs and homepages. It is visited 3.5 billion times each month. In 2007, 98 cell phone novels were published into books. "Koizora" is a popular phone novel with approximately 12 million views on-line, written by "Mika", that was not only published but turned into a movie. Five out of the ten best selling novels in Japan in 2007 were originally cell phone novels.
The first cell phone novel was “published” in Japan in 2003 by a Tokyo man in his mid-thirties who calls himself Yoshi. His first cell phone novel was called Deep Love, the story of a teenager engaged in "subsidized dating" (enjō kosai) in Tokyo and contracting AIDS. It became so popular that it was published as an actual book, with 2.6 million copies sold in Japan, then spun off into a television series, a manga, and a movie. The cell phone novel became a hit mainly through word of mouth and gradually started to gain traction in Taiwan, China, and South Korea among young adults. In Japan, several sites offer large prizes to authors (up to $100,000 US) and purchase the publishing rights to the novels.
The movement also became popular in Europe, Africa and North America. In Europe it started in about 2007, promoted by people like Oliver Bendel and Wolfgang Hohlbein, and publishers such as Cosmoblonde or Blackbetty Mobilmedia. Teenagers in South Africa have been downloading an m-novel called Kontax - a novel specifically written for mobile phones. The pioneer cell phone novel in North America, a novel called Secondhand Memories by Takatsu - that can be viewed on Textnovel, the first English language cell phone novel site founded in the United States - has been viewed more than 60,000 times and published in print in 2015 as a paperback.
Reason for popularity
Although Japan was the original birthplace of the cell phone novel, the phenomenon soon moved to other parts of East Asia, and many of the online writers are university students. These writers understand what narratives will attract young readers, incorporating emergent events or trendy elements from teen culture into their stories.
Cell phone novels create a virtual world for teenagers via the mobile phone, or, more precisely, via text messages. As in virtual online video games, readers can put themselves into first person in the story. Cell phone novels create a personal space for each individual reader. As Paul Levinson wrote in Cellphone, "nowadays, a writer can write just about as easily, anywhere, as a reader can read" (p 20).
The cell phone novel is changing reading habits; readers no longer need to physically go to a bookshop and purchase a book. They can go online using their cell phone, download a novel, and read it on their personal mobile phone anywhere, any time they wish. Similar to the e-book, its mobility and convenience saves time.
Characteristics and literary style
Because of the short chapter format consisting of around 70-100 words (usually fewer than 200), the phenomenon has brought a new approach to literature, allowing a new vision to potentially redefine traditional writing and the publishing world. Despite the use of cell phones, most of these novels are not written with SMS slang and language. Instead, it has brought out a new era of minimalism and art. In each chapter, readers will be able to experience narration, poetry and even visual arts in the use of carefully chosen line breaks, punctuation, rhythm and white space.
Often, cell phone novels features the use of fragments, conversational, simple and delicate language; cliffhangers and dramatic dialogue emphasized by the unseen or omitted becomes a vital part of the reading experience, allowing deeper meanings and interpretations to unfold. Because of the use of poetic language, mood, emotions and internal thoughts are stimulated in the reader easily. Dramatic and drastic plots takes readers through twists and turns, cliffhanger after cliffhanger, always keeping the reader waiting for the next chapter instalment.
The nature of writing and reading on the go, creates a unique experience, allowing the writer and reader to approach literature in a different way, opening interactivity between the readers and the writer as the story develops in "real time".
- Constrained writing
- Verse novel
- Japanese mobile phone culture
- Light novel
- Visual novel
- Web fiction
- Howard Rheingold (2002) Smart Mobs: the Next Social Revolution, Perseus, Cambridge, Massachusetts, pp.xi-xxii, 157-182
- Paul Levinson (2004) Cellphone, Palgrave/St. Martin's, New York, pp, 15-33
- Dana Goodyear (2008) The New Yorker; "I <3 Novels" newyorker.com
- Asahi Shimbun (2007) 普通の若者が携帯小説 ベストセラーも続々 books.asahi.com
- United Daily News (2008) 手機小說 「按」出新文學 mag.udn.com
- Documentary on Cell Phone Novels Video explaining cell phone novels in North America
- Detailed Article by cell phone novelist The pioneer English cell phone novel writer, exploring cell phone novels in Japan, and in English
- The Wattpad Cell Phone Novel Network A cell phone novel writing community with resources and guides
- Mobile Phone Novel Website about cell phone novels
- India gets its first Phone Novel in Malayalam.Written & Presented by P. R. Harikumar
- Novels on your phone futureofthebook.org
- Cell phones put to novel use, wired.com
- New York Times article on cell phone novels New York Times
- Blog about textnovel.com Blog about U.S. mobile phone novel site
- Textnovel -- an English language mobile phone novel website This is the first cell phone novel website in the United States
- apple.com Article about Quillpill, which is no longer active
- echcrunch.com article about Quillpill, a site that is no longer active
- Young women develop a genre for the cellular age Dana Goodyear writes in The New Yorker
- ip.tosp.co.jp, The Library of Magics, one of the famous websites for uploading and downloading mobile phone novels in Japan
- English Version of Japan's Biggest Mobile Social Network, Mobile Game Town This site is no longer active.