Web fiction is written work of literature available primarily or solely on the Internet. A common type of web fiction is the webserial. The term comes from old serial stories that were once published regularly in newspapers and magazines. They are also sometimes referred to as "webcomics without pictures", although many do use images as illustrations to supplement the text.
Unlike a book, a web fiction is often not compiled and published as a whole. Instead, it is released on the Internet in installments or chapters as they are finished, although published compilations and anthologies are not unknown. The webserial form dominates in the category of fan fiction, as writing a serial takes less specialized software and often less time than an ebook.
Web-based fiction dates to the earliest days of the World Wide Web, including the extremely popular The Spot (1995–1997), a tale told through characters' journal entries and interactivity with its audience. The Spot spawned many similar sites, including Ferndale and East Village, though these were not as successful and did not last long. Most of these early ventures are no longer in existence.
Since 2008, web fiction has proliferated in popularity. Possibly as a result of this, more fans of webserials have decided to create their own, propagating the form further, leading to the number of serious, original works growing quickly. Some serials utilize the formats of the media to include things not possible in ordinary books, such as clickable maps, pop-up character bios, sorting posts by tag, illustrations, and video. Supplementary information is often available on the serial's website, sometimes in the form of wikis that fans of the work help maintain.
Over the past few years, the primary medium for publishing webserials has been the blog. Some webserials have supplementary blogs for updates, news, or fictional blogs for the characters themselves.
LiveJournal is also a popular platform for web serials due to its large userbase and integrated communities. Some webserials are published on Livejournal directly, whereas some have LiveJournal communities for reader discussion and feedback.
Some webserials are produced on content management systems such as Drupal, WordPress, or Joomla, which may integrate blogs directly into the site and also have many custom add-ons (such as for integrating social networking services such as Twitter or Facebook).
A distribution tool integrated into almost all media is the RSS feed, so that subscribers can get updates on the latest chapters or episodes via an RSS reader or other media.
Another format in use is the internet forum. A free forum service such as ProBoards or Ezboard may be used to create a board for a webserial, or the webserial may be a feature of a larger board in order to benefit from its traffic. Forums can also be integrated into a webserial's main site to increase community interaction.
Some webserials have been told entirely on Twitter or have used it as a way of adding depth to the universe. Character Twitter accounts are a very popular example of this. Twitter is also a useful tool for author-fan interaction and update announcements. There are a variety of Twitter hashtags now in use for the webserial community. Facebook integration is also popular, with Facebook fanpages for webserials or webserial authors as well as character accounts.
Blog fiction is a form of fiction writing that uses blogs to reach its readership. It is a small-scale fringe activity in the world of blogging, and although it has generated some literary critical interest, it remains isolated. It is presented in many forms, from a pretend diary or posted novel to a serialblog.
Webserials are cheaper to run than webcomics for the most part, although the returns are not much better, if at all (except in China). Most authors must pay for the costs out of their own pockets, though the significantly lower bandwidth strain of text instead of pictures may help lower the expenses. Hosting and advertisement costs are still just as much a concern for non-organized webserial authors as webcomic artists.
This business generates billions of dollars of revenue for the web platforms in mainland China and the surrounding areas, the most used site are qidian.com, which hosts a total of 1,967,649 titles (as of 2016 October 2).
The advent of free blogging platforms such as the WordPress free host and Blogger have freed some serial writers from financial concerns, as well as any requirement for technical knowledge. However, these free hosts provide less flexibility and also may not be as scalable as a pay host.
Donations and 'tip jars' are a common way of getting money for webserials, often using services such as PayPal, but one of the main means of monetizing Web serials is advertising on blogs, which can allow writers to both host banners or purchase them on other sites and blogs. This can allow authors to recoup many of the costs associated with online novel creation. These are sometimes sufficient to cover the basic costs for hosting, and some of the more popular webserials can succeed with their entire budget made from donations or revenue of this type.
Another financing method is what WebLit author MCM refers to as "Serial+": readers are shown a schedule for how long it would take them to read the whole story at the rate of posting new installments, and offered the option of buying the entire story on the spot.
A few webserial authors have taken to collecting their work and releasing in a book format for easy consumption offline. Self-publishing is key in this field, and services such as CafePress and Lulu.com are often used for distribution and sales of these anthologies. The advent and acceptance of the ebook has allowed writers to become quite prolific with "bound collections" offered as downloads in formats such as pdf, Smashwords, and Mobipocket.
Some publishers have started using serials on their sites as "eye bait" and proving grounds for novels, Tor Books. Similarly, writers with established series have been able to continue writing those series after being dropped by conventional publishers, as Lawrence Watt-Evans has done with his Ethshar novels.
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Webserials typically come in three main styles of plot cohesiveness. One is self-contained, a storytelling style which has no or little plot connections between installments. Stories are tied together by their universe, subject matter, atmosphere, or plot structure. Stories such as these are very often surrealist or vignettes, although some authors do use this format simply to gain the ability to switch characters on a regular basis.
The next is loose continuity. Loose continuity stories share the same universe or world by default, and tie into a grander story. However, while the plot arcs are designed to be read to their maximum benefit by those who are most familiar with the world, it is not so self-referential that it becomes impossible to follow for a new reader without aid. Loose continuity stories can simply be individual units, or can take a mini-series feel. They may run in tightly cohesive, short arcs that must be read from the beginning, but only a basic familiarization with the premise may be necessary to enjoy each specific story arc.
The last style is tightly cohesive. As the name implies, webserials of this type very closely intertwine episodes or chapters with each other, and depend on the reader being familiar with as much of the story beforehand as possible. They are often meant to be read as one would read a book, though obviously accounting for better and more frequent natural breaks in the plot than a book would usually require.
Fan fiction popularized the publishing of writing on the internet and set the standards for much of the community interaction surrounding webserials. Many fanfiction works have been published in multi-part works of epic length which prepared internet-based reading audiences for the easy digestion of serialized original works. Also, some webserial authors (and many authors in general) made their start in fanfiction before setting out for original work. Therefore, the readerships for fanfiction and webserials intersect quite a bit, and some fandom language and memes are shared by the webserial community. Most webserials tend towards regular publication schedules, however, whereas the bulk of fanfiction is published at the author's convenience. In fanfiction there is less obligation to finish or continue stories.
Many fan fiction archives (such as the popular Fanfiction.net archive) are set up to accommodate and encourage the publication of serial works. Fanfiction.net has a sister site (Fiction Press) for original work with the same organizational structure.
A web novel, sometimes called a virtual novel, is a novel published online. Web novels or "webfiction" exist in both free-to-read and pay-to-read formats. Free-to-read formats are voluntarily indexed at sites such as Webfiction Guide or Muses Success.
The interactive novel is a form of digital fiction. While authors of traditional paper-and-ink novels have sometimes tried to give readers the random directionality offered by true hypertexting, this approach was not completely feasible until the development of HTML. Paper novels (indeed, some digital novels) are linear, that is, read from page to page in a straight line. Interactive novels, however, offer readers a unique way to read fiction by choosing a page, a character, or a direction. By following hyperlinked phrases within the novel, readers can find new ways to understand characters. There is no wrong way to read a hypertext interactive novel. Links embedded within the pages are meant to be taken at a reader's discretion – to allow the reader a choice in the novel's world.
Webcomics, online comics, or Internet comics are comics published on a website. While most are published exclusively on the web, some are also published in magazines, newspapers, or often self-published books.
Webcomics can be compared to self-published print comics in that almost anyone can create their own webcomic and publish it. As of January 2007, the four largest webcomic hosting services hosted over 18,000 webcomics, ranging from traditional comic strips to graphic novels and covering many genres and subjects.
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