People have been direly predicting the death of the novel for decades. Dave Edelman has an interesting and well-considered new take on the subject.
Will the novel die? I won’t keep you in suspense: Yes, the novel will die. It might not happen in your lifetime. But yes, I can say unequivocally that the novel will eventually breathe its last and lay down contentedly in the grave of dead art forms. I’ll be very conservative and estimate 50 years.
And you know what? It’s not that big a deal.
Very soon we’re going to have a medium for distributing the written word that’s not only easier but better suited to the task than books. So let’s dispense with the silly, sentimental arguments you often hear about why storytelling is never going to go electronic. “You can’t replace the feeling of a holding a book,” “I don’t like reading on a screen,” and “I can’t read an e-book in the bathtub” are some of the sillier excuses you hear all the time for why printed books are going to survive until the end of time. I’m sorry, but “I can hold my entire library in my hand,” “I can download new books at will,” “I can search my entire library in a nanosecond,” “I can instantly send books to my friends,” “I can translate and define words on the fly,” and “I don’t have to devote an entire room of my house to holding my books” are going to trump reading in the bathtub any day of the week.
To sum up: the written word is going electronic. Permanently. Soon. Once that happens, storytellers will have no need to shoehorn their stories into these 8? x 12? hunks of pulped wood and ink. And once we’re not restricted to the medium of the novel, we’ll be leaving the form behind.
The death of the novel doesn’t mean the death of storytelling. It doesn’t mean that nobody’s ever going to put an Aristotelian structure of fiction into 120,000 words. On the contrary, it’s going to mean that storytelling will finally be unleashed. We’re going to see fiction strap on blue tights and a red cape and really soar.
Personally I think that’s going to be fun to see.