Fiction's Future: Words, Sentences, Quotes

In a word? Dismal (for literary fiction, that is).
—Lee K. Abbott

Liquidity, expansion, cultural multiplicity, fusion, faction.
—Diana Abu-Jaber

The first word that comes to mind is “electronics” as in the lyrics to “Electronic Performers” from the French avant-pop band Air:

We are the synchronizers
Send messages through time code
Midi clock rings in my mind
Machines gave me some freedom
Synthesizers gave me some wings
They drop me through twelve bit samplers
We are electronic performers
We are electronics.
—Mark Amerika

My only expertise on the future of fiction is the potential next novel circulating in my head. Outside of that, recent evidence suggests that the most interesting future of fiction will be featured in small independent presses.
—Jonathan Baumbach

Always relevant, always necessary, not on the verge of death, but the pasture is steadily getting more crowded with other options, and people do not have more time.
—Aimee Bender

The future of fiction is a fairy tale.
—Kate Bernheimer

I’m inclined to reply with a URL:
—Michael Bérubé

—Stephen J. Burn

The landscape of fiction will increasingly resemble that of poetry in its variety of forms and traditions.
—Teresa Carmody

The future of fiction may lie in some combination of hypertextuality, intertextuality, and video, but if so, it will have to do without me. Of course, it will ultimately have to do without me no matter what direction it goes in, so at this point I’m not very invested in the question. But I believe that no matter what fiction will continue to be interested in character and language. How otherwise?
—Kelly Cherry

The printing press, along with most physical apparati of analog human communication, is now a museum relic. For the rising generations, the digital revolution is no novelty but simply the world into which they were born (new technologies create new audiences; they may even rewire the young brains that grow up on them). That revolution would seem to be irresistible and irreversible, the medium of choice (or perhaps choice is not even a factor) for the new generations, meaning that, if literature is to survive and continue to be a force in human lives, it will have to go there, speak to that audience. The novel’s future in this new expressive arena, impatient with extensive works in monomedia, would seem to be somewhat bleak, but if the notion of the “novel” be expanded to include all complex and lengthy narrative literature, there is no reason to suppose that storytelling, sometimes held to be that which, after language itself, most centrally defines humanity, will not eventually move as readily from page to computer screen, or its future equivalents, as it once moved from oral tale-tellers to clay tablets to scroll to codex to printed book.
—Robert Coover

Our desire to read stories will never die, I’m sure, and the most traditional forms of fiction will probably continue indefinitely; but alongside these traditional forms, I’m convinced, other forms will keep emerging, as they are emerging now, some of them quite impossible to predict.
—Lydia Davis

I see fiction’s future as strong in the coming years: in tough times, people turn more than ever to stories, which tell the truth aslant and cleanse us through catharsis, and novels are still the least expensive and most meaningful way to travel the world.
—Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

I don’t know how we’ll be reading and writing our stories—on our iPhones, computers, Kindles, or in or on whatever other technological miracle is in the offing—but we will be reading and writing stories. We need them to make sense of our lives and of our world. Lack of narrative sense leads to anxiety, and anxiety leads to damage. We have to tell our stories; we have to see our lives reflected in stories. Our fiction will certainly reflect the social networking, cyber culture we’re living in because that culture is shaping us. (I still don’t read anything online longer than a paragraph. Does that mean that electronically published stories will become shorter? Or does it suggest that I’m a Luddite? ) Italo Calvino said that the last millennium was the millennium of the novel. I don’t know what the primary narrative medium of this nascent millennium will be, but we will be telling each other stories—just like when once upon a time we sat around the campfire talking about the day’s wooly rhinoceros hunt.
—John Dufresne

The future of fiction is that the sort of books I write and serious writers throughout the country write will have an audience of less than 1 percent of the population. I don’t know if that is necessarily bad. And maybe my estimate is optimistic. Didn’t Nelson Algren once say that writing the sort of books he wrote was a “sucker’s game”? I guess if making money is your goal, then he’s right.
—Scott Ely

I think that the future of fiction for me lies somewhere between the philosophies expressed by both:

“The trouble begins when we start to be so impressed by the strategies of our systematized thought that we forget that it does relate to an obverse, that it is hewn from negation, that it is but very small security against the void of negation which surrounds it.” —Glenn Gould

“The expression that there is nothing to express, nothing with which to express, nothing from which to express, no power to express, no desire to express, together with the obligation to express.” —Samuel Beckett
—Brian Evenson

Given that the shift from orality to print didn’t essentially change the architecture of storytelling, it seems to me unlikely that the shift from print to electronics will effect fundamental changes either—and fiction in the future, as we move from reading on the page to reading on the screen, will continue to be about the use of language in the exploration of characters and events.
—Edward Falco

—Raymond Federman

The future of fiction rests with its ability to regain its public function—as a principal way we relate narrative, as an indispensable means of telling our story and that of our era.
—Larry Fondation

The future of fiction is an opportunity to rise to our highest selves—as readers, writers, and characters of the page.
—M. Evelina Galang

Given that what Marcel Proust says in Time Regained (1927), that “in every country fools form the bulk of the population,” is true, and that mainstream publishers are only interested in what sells, then we can look forward to more Opium for the Asses.
—Zulfikar Ghose

A revival of stories in good old English, written by writers with last names like Celaya, Bautista, Urquidí, Reyes, and with first names like Nahui, Moisés, Cris, and Rosario, none of them immigrants, from the American West—that is, none of whom are from the East Coast, only visited a couple times because they are published in New York City.
—Dagoberto Gilb

To make complexity, passion, justice, intelligence, and vision part of the unfolding, open, and ongoing human drama.
—Henry A. Giroux

A hope, not a prediction: I’d love to see fiction that concentrates on the things fiction does uniquely well—chief among these the inhabiting of thought, the mapping of consciousness—rather than chasing vainly after more popular art forms. I like film and TV, too…but what’s the point of a fiction that envies and emulates them, and thus dooms itself to being second-rate visual culture rather than first-rate verbal culture?
—Michael Griffith

In the future, fiction will seek to reconcile the paradox between postmodern irony and plain, old-fashioned storytelling, which it will do by imagining itself as a both/and artifice: both what it is—fiction, a lie, firmly rooted in story; and a theory of what it is—writing itself.
—Katharine Haake

Part of fiction’s future will lead through the rich verbal-visual storyworlds of graphic novels.
—David Herman

Fiction writers will have to disengage from electronics and go outside. Not just fiction writers, but the general population. The future of fiction is safe, though, because “Tell me a story” will always be a welcome invitation.
—Cary Holladay

If it’s life and death, since we’re living and dying, keeping on, then fiction—the music in fiction and the poem—the true joyous unsettling freak show of it all—since fiction, if fiction, if it’s true, then fiction has a wildly sure beguiling fuck-you future among the living. Bet you anything.
—Noy Holland

The future of fiction?

Human beings have been telling stories to one another since there first were human beings, and I foresee not the remotest possibility that this will change. How people tell those stories, and how those stories are passed along, has always been and will always be in flux. I know it is likely that the bound book will eventually go the way of the illuminated manuscript, though I do not think this risk is imminent. Certainly, the nature of the literary marketplace—the production and dissemination of fiction—will continue to change radically, but from Gilgamesh to Midnight’s Children (1981), our avidity to invent and to be held spellbound by stories has been constant. The future of fiction is the same as its lengthy past: irrepressible and unstoppable.
—Janette Turner Hospital

Federico García Lorca was offed by the Falangists.
John Gardner fell in with morality.
E. M. Forster averted his eyes.
Dying, van Gogh whispered to his devoted brother Theo:
La tristesse durera toujours.”
“Sadness will never end.”
Magisterial Goethe, dying in Weimar after having completed Faust, demanded “more light.”
Faust is unread.
Light won’t enlighten.
Faulkner got drunk between writing.
Had he known the word “globalism,” he would have written between drunks.
Foucault’s panopticon birthed the Pentagon’s Internet.
Fanon composed The Wretched of the Earth (1961), then perished.
Earth is currently (meta)earth.
Flaubert’s fiction foregrounds Le mot juste.
Ce n’est past juste. Jamais.
Listening on my iPod to the exquisite contralto Kathleen Ferrier diagnosed with cancer singing Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde conducted by Mahler’s friend and disciple Bruno Walter.
Adapted from an ancient Chinese text, set in the forest,
The last word of the final movement, repeated, is the German ewig, “forever,” as in “forever renewed.”
Ferrier weeps.
Tell us, pale technocrat, what “forever renewed” has become in Futurismo.
“Forever renewed” in Futurismo has become servitude unending.
—Harold Jaffe

If by fiction we mean the activity of storytelling or shaping experience in the form of a narrative (events presented causally in a sequence with a beginning, middle, and end), then we can expect stories to endure as long as the human species, for each of us bases our lives, actions, and judgments as often on the stories we tell ourselves as we do on reason or logic; and even in science shaping events as a story that may later prove to be a fiction (for example, the narrative of the Big Bang that began our universe between 13 and 15 billion years ago) is a fundamental, epistemological approach to knowing or interpreting events: we will always tell stories to clarify our lives.
—Charles Johnson

Fiction’s future: it’s all made up.
—Stephen Graham Jones

The future of fiction is its past, though that future, too, is a fiction.
—Michael Joyce

Our laboratory has made significant progress in developing an extended family of microbes that show great potential for the writing of fiction. The most successful bacteria are flagellants that so far have succeeded in producing only some texts of fiction already written. They have done Mrs. Dalloway (1925), Journey to the End of the Night (1932), As I Lay Dying (1930), The Golden Notebooks (1962). They seem now sympathetic with the works of Dawn Powell and Roberto Bolaño. All of the late David Foster Wallace is being produced in its nanoversions. They so far have made only the crudest attempt at original works, but do seem quite adroit at engaging constraints. One of the brief original pieces is written without the use of X or Y. Some of the ciliated protozoa have chlorophyll in their makeup, and an ability to produce paper, at least enough for these nanoworks. My colleague is developing a line of rotifers with ability to swiftly print out the texts. They also have the potential to translate into forty-three languages simultaneously. Interesting that these wee wordslingers, invisible to the naked eye, don’t work with any sense of beginning, middle, or end, but seem to write from anywhere in the texts they are producing, writing it all at once. We hope to have their first original work of nanofiction by the beginning of next year. These writing critters give great hope because of the probability they are here for the long run. They will endure. Long after humans have created an inhospitable environment for themselves, and their fictioneers are flattened against the walls of their caves and disappeared, these microbes will be potent to keep fiction alive. I am certain that any future fiction will unfold under these microscopes.
—Steve Katz

I cannot predict the future. Hell, I can barely dict the past. But as to what it feels like to be writing fiction at this moment? A quotation, by all means, and with all due thanks to Ferdinand Foch, who was smart enough to get to it first: “Hard pressed on my right. My center is yielding. Impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent. I attack.”
—Roy Kesey

Fiction will continue to delight readers by imposing structure on the chaos that is life.
—Richard Lange

Four words: anonymous, viral, collaborative, ephemeral.
—Michael Martone

I have seen the future of fiction, and its name is Mark Z. Danielewski.
—Larry McCaffery

In this age of anomie, interactive media (blogging, tweeting, taking face) give a glimpse of a popular fiction that’s on the rise. A new generation of author-users is taking shape, looking to convey a “me” who is not “I,” creating a web of surreptitious narratives—cloaked fictions that parade as personal expression and desire—that have become everyday life rather than fodder for fictional worlds. This isn’t simulation (or simulacrum). It’s fiction transformed into something new that does not resemble fictions we’ve known before. From where are these new stories narrated?
—Christina Milletti

Oh jesus. An opportunity to sound like a fool. Okay. How about this:
fiction’s future, like the future of writing, is tied up in technology.

Fiction will do well if cradled in books that know they are books, if it tells stories appropriate to the technology of the book as artifact, and not to ebooks or cell phones or iPods or Kindles. It will also take advantage of these other technologies to tell stories enabled or informed by them. It’s ridiculous to complain about the end of the book if we’re writing stories that don’t need to be in books. The book’s a great technology, yeah, and will persist, but these other technologies—opportunities for story—will multiply. Story will persist, and writers interested in telling stories will increasingly think about—and control—the technologies that underpin and make possible the stories they tell.

That’s a little cranky, but I’m in a cranky mood.
—Ander Monson

Fiction will persist—lighter, faster, and more entertaining—to meet the demands of the twenty-first century readers.
—Farnoosh Moshiri

Perhaps some combinatory calculus of the following:

“There is hope, but not for us.” —Franz Kafka

“Reading novels—serious novels, anyhow—is an experience limited to a very small percentage of the so-called enlightened public. Increasingly, it’s going to be a pursuit for those who seek unusual experiences, moral fetishists perhaps, people of heightened imagination, the troubled pursuers of the ambiguous self.” —Jerzy Kosinski
—Lance Olsen

The future of fiction is a computer program into which four texts at a time may be fed—for example, Gilgamesh, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852), The Golden Bowl (1904), and The Hunt for Red October (1984)—and what comes out the other end will be a completely new bestseller made of recycled materials so exquisitely and intricately melded that there is not the least vestige or hint of copyright violation.
—Jack Pendarvis

I predict future fiction will be much more transnational than it was in the 60s–70s. Witness the attention Roberto Bolaño, Javier Marías, W. G. Sebald, and others are receiving.
—Marjorie Perloff

Fiction’s future is multiplicitous and fragmented: more people will write and read fiction—in more genres and across more media—than ever before, but it will be much harder for any one fiction to dominate its cultural moment.
—James Phelan

—Vanessa Place

The depressing possibility that most fiction in the future will be available primarily on computer screens and skinny little gizmos has me praying every day for a government bailout that will save not only the BOOK in its present beautiful and tangible form, but mainstream publishing as well.
—Donald Ray Pollock

Fiction will survive, because what it gives us doesn’t matter until it has to.
—Ron Rash

Fiction is alive and well; it’s the machines through which these inventions are expressed (i.e., books) that are going the way of the dodo. If this process comes to be known as the de-commodification of fiction, then the next few decades will be extraordinary.
—Jim Ruland

What I have included below might seem an odd “definition,” but I think it speaks to the future of fiction: readers will expect literal jimcracks, not boring old linguistic jimcrackery.

“[Judy Newman, president of Scholastic Book Clubs] said that some children might be drawn to a book because it comes with a sticker or a poster, but that that doesn’t mean that they’re not reading. She added that even a product like a make-your-own-jewelry kit would have a reading component in the instructions.” (Motoko Rich, “Scholastic Accused of Misusing Book Clubs,” The New York Times, 9 February 2009)
—Josh Russell

A super-technologized version of Aristophanes’ famous fricassee—Lopado-temakho-selakho-galeo-kranio-leipsano-drim-hypo-trimmato-silphio-karabo-melito-katakekhy-meno-kikhl-epi-kossypho-phatto-perister-alektryon-opto-kephallio-kigklo-peleio-lagōio-siraio-baphē-tragano-pterýgōn—which each of the sixteen sweet and sour ingredients (including giant fennel, honey, wood pigeon, etc.), each enciphered through a process of linguistic and genetic de-realization to produce heretofore unknown yet dangerous meta-textual meals.
—Davis Schneiderman

The future of fiction is science (fiction).
—Elizabeth Sheffield

There will be more daring independent publishers, again, to counterbalance the Gigantic Publishers of Commercial Milquetoast.
—George Singleton

Fiction, as a cultural activity committed to exploring the human condition, will have no future if it continues to rely on the MFA (writer’s workshop) mentality for its production.
—William V. Spanos

Like ourselves and everything around us, the future of fiction will be “virtual.”
—Yuriy Tarnawsky

Fiction does have a future. It will endure; it has endured, because the art of storytelling, an essential human need, has always been with us. How will it evolve? It’s difficult to underestimate the power of the Internet and all of its machinations, interrelations, the way it is changing the world of commerce, politics, publishing, journalism, relationships, and romance….

Some of us will be writing fiction in such a way that the form mimics the interfacing and intertextuality of the Web while others of us, who have relationships as our central theme, are exploring the world of cyber-relationships in fiction, the way that relationships form and develop online, and the world, the society, engendered by such cyber-interactions. It’s an exciting time.

Related link:
—Jessica Treat

Fiction has been part of what makes us human since we have been developed as such, and it will continue to be the best way we know who we are, what we are made of, what’s happening, what we look and feel and sound and act like. We have told ourselves stories forever and will be doing so with our last gasps. And as we’ve apart, dispersed, we’ve relied on writing and on reading these stories. The writing becomes our record, tells who we are and who we were. I lump memoirs in this category of fiction, for no matter how truthful my family members and friends claim to be when telling their stories, I know them to be exaggerating at the least. Maybe it’s me.
—Mary Troy

The same could be said of fiction’s future as could of the next ship that carries a man to the moon: quaint craft, quixotic—yet brave and beautiful and somehow still new.
—Deb Olin Unferth

The future of fiction is like the greening of the earth—all seems possible if we can only survive long enough, as never in human history have there been so many energetic young talents at work to re-imagine and write the new stories of our world.
—Douglas Unger

Plastics. The future is in plastics.
—Sylvia Watanabe

—James Whorton, Jr.

The future of fiction is forthcoming.
—Eric Miles Williamson

From the perspective of cognitive science (particularly research in “theory of mind”), we’ll never get enough of fictional narratives because they grant us access, however illusory, to what as a social species we value most of all: other people’s minds.
—Lisa Zunshine



Volume 36, Issue 1

Volume 35, Issue 6

Volume 35, Issue 5

Volume 35, Issue 4


Home | About Us | Current Issue | Back Issues | Reading Series | Donations | Subscribe
Advertise | Contact Us | Related Links