Figment: Is Next Hemingway Lurking on New Website for Young Writers?

Filed under: In The News, Books for Kids

figment

Young writers are hoping to grab the attention of young readers with the launch of Figment, a site for teen novelists. Credit: Getty

"Represent," a novel by Maggie Halickman, is 7,700 words long and takes about ... 39 minutes to read?

Whoa!

Who has time for that? Better scroll over to "Inversion." Its author -- who calls herself Coppelia -- manages to cram three chapters into 496 words. It takes about two minutes to read.

Now that is literature.

It could be, anyway, in the 21st century. The New York Times reports that Figment, a website for young writers that launched Dec. 6, might well be the harbinger of a brave new literary world.

Rather than aspiring writers banging out manuscripts and mailing them to publishers in the hope they'll be turned into bound "books" (whatever those are), here's a new idea: Post your writing online. You know, like on Facebook. Let other young writers read and comment on your work.

That's Figment.

The website was created by Jacob Lewis, a former managing editor of The New Yorker, along with Dana Goodyear, a current staff writer for the magazine, The Times reports.

Their hope is to keep literature alive as we teeter on the brink of what philosopher Marshall McLuhan called a "post-literate society" (but lots of other people call a world of video-gaming, Facebook-posting, illiterate mouth breathers with the attention spans and grammar skills of guacamole).

Figment grew out of a weird -- and oh-so 21st century -- literary development called the cell phone novel. Goodyear wrote a New Yorker piece in 2008 about young Japanese women who composed fiction on their phones, and dubbed it "the first literary genre to emerge from the cellular age." The idea of sharing new literature online was born.

To prepare for this week's unveiling of Figment, Goodyear and Lewis worked with schools, libraries and literary organizations across the country to recruit several hundred teen writers willing to contribute to the prototype.

"We wanted people to be able to write whatever they wanted in whatever form they wanted," Lewis tells The Times. "We give them a piece of paper and say, 'Go.' "

Contributions so far run the gamut from fantasy and science fiction to biographical work and long serial novels.

"There's a very earnest and exacting quality to what they're doing," Lewis adds.

Despite all the doom and gloom in the print world, young people are definitely reading -- if only potboilers about vampires, sex and teenage angst. Lewis tells The Times publishers are eager to learn more about teens' reading habits and what might be the next shiny object to grab their attention.

"For publishers, this is an amazing opportunity to not only reach your consumers but to find out really valuable information about how they are reading," he adds.

This being the 21st century, each literary effort on Figment includes a word count and how much Twitter time it threatens to eat up.

Could the next great author really be discovered in such an environment?

Imagine a novel by "Fitz" that is 50,000 words and takes as many as two or three days to thoroughly digest.

"Love 'The Great Gatsby,' " Trudy Stein would write in the comments. "But duuuude, seriously, 50,000 words? Who's gonna read that?"

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