Fictional Friends on Facebook

Steffi McBride, Jack Lancaster and Tracie Martin are, like many of us, on Facebook.  However, Linda Jones sees this as “disconcerting.  The Web 2.0 phenomenon is weaving a fictional web that can carry on where a book finishes – how can you tell who’s real and who’s made up?”

 Why is it disconcerting?  I’ll leave aside the patronising notion that us poor delusional readers can’t tell fact from fiction.  I’ll also assume that Facebook users who are friends of Tracie Martin know she is a character and have become friends because they’re fans of Alison Kervin’s novels featuring Tracie Martin.

 How many times have you read a book or watched a film and wondered what happened to the characters after the final page or the credits rolled?  Or what happened before the book or film started?  Or found yourself exploring what happened in those missing scenes, that tantalising white space indicating a time break or that slip between choosing a course of action and being thrown into the thick of it?

 There’s a whole genre of fiction based around this: fanfic.  Some authors accept fanfic (so long as fanfic writers acknowledge they don’t own copyright and credit the original author).  Some authors are more possessive and don’t welcome fanfic based on their characters.  Here’s an alternative to time-consuming and pricy lawsuits: create a Facebook or myspace profile and allow fans to post questions and start discussions where they can be controlled.

 Linda Jones continues, “But where does that leave the humble reader?  We expect a book to tell the story and not that it will be continued across some latest technical wizardry on the whims of marketing people.  When we hand over our cash to pay for the latest bestseller we are investing in what is in our hands at that very moment, not some nebulous future journey plotted through cyberspace.”

Or do we?  I read books for a variety of reasons but chiefly I’m looking for credible characters I can believe in alongside good writing and a good story.  My own stories start with characters.  And a character I care about will often live beyond the story (whoever wrote it).  Authors generally do build a complete picture of a character and know far more then is relevant to the novel.  Why shouldn’t authors use social media to establish communities around characters?

Would you include fictional characters on your friends’ list?  Which fictional characters would you invite to be friends?

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