Web Fiction

Online writ­ing of fic­ti­tious char­ac­ters appear­ing in the guise of Web sites, Usenet and mail­ing-list authors, online avatars, and oth­er vir­tu­al “per­son­al­i­ties.” Also called Net Fic­tion.

A lot of younger netusers don’t even read fic­tion any­more; instead, they fol­low blogs because “the real world’s more inter­est­ing than made-up stories.” In oth­er words they’ve nev­er cul­ti­vat­ed the abil­i­ty to hold them­selves through a prose nar­ra­tive and have no abil­i­ty to stay down inside the world of a work of prose art — but they could read the web fic­tions of arti­fi­cial blog­gers, avatars and oth­er fic­ti­tious, man­u­fac­tured “per­son­al­i­ties.”

Pre-Web online netfictions

Any accounts from ear­ly usenet or BBS­ing?


The early Web and “Way New Journalism” era

There were sev­er­al net­fic­tion projects and pop­u­lar online “char­ac­ters” that exist­ed before the peak of blog­ging.


alt.personalities was the title for a col­lec­tion of online char­ac­ters and fic­tions active in the mid-1990s. The char­ac­ters appeared in net­news threads, gopher files, ear­ly blogs, web sites, and even hard­copy chap­books.

Walter Miller


Lit­tle is left of this Pathfind­er-era char­ac­ter, who was quite pos­si­bly the first “elec­tron­ic hill­bil­ly.” There’s the orig­i­nal Geoc­i­ties page: http://www.geocities.com/Heartland/Prairie/9179/walter.htm. At the turn of the mil­len­ni­um this was sup­pos­ed­ly updat­ed to www.waltermillerhomepage.com, but — like most sites from these “char­ac­ters” of the 90s — it’s gone.

Wal­ter’s men­tioned in Levi Ash­er’s 2009 online mem­oir of the 90s Web era, and he’s also includ­ed in Ash­er’s 1997 hard­copy anthol­o­gy, [amazonify]1884777384::text::::Cof­fee­house: Writ­ings from the Web[/amazonify].

Web-fictions in the 21st century

The age of blog­ging and oth­er online mes­sag­ing (Twit­ter, Face­book, MySpace) makes net-fic­tion easy. There’s prob­a­bly some out there.

Gary Benchley

Gary Bench­ley is the name of Paul Ford’s fake char­ac­ter, who turned up with a series of let­ters in The Morn­ing News begin­ning in the autumn of 2003, and even­tu­al­ly turned into the lead pro­tag­o­nist of an epony­mous nov­el, [amazonify]0452286638::text::::Gary Bench­ly, Rock Star[/amazonify]. (Ford had pre­vi­ous­ly experiement­ed with fic­ti­tious online web-char­ac­ters on his Ftrain.com site.)

Related pranks, forgeries and fakes

Not all of what would be web-fic­tions are done with a lit­er­ary inten­tion. Sev­er­al elab­o­rate fake-jobs have been per­pe­trat­ed. There’s prob­a­bly a lot of that out there now.


Apeared in MIT Press. Instead of fic­ti­tious char­ac­ters, this “prank” imper­son­at­ed Tim­o­thy Druck­ery, Mark Ameri­ka and oth­ers. [archive]

“Art prank” in Vice Magazine

This dis­ap­peared from the net but a ref­er­ence exists in archive, sans images. (Vice Sept 1999?) (Ref­er­ences orig­i­nal arti­cle)

Paul Maliszewski’s “Faking”

Paul Mal­iszews­ki began online “fak­ing” in this peri­od, but he appar­ent­ly did not have a lit­er­ary motive. An arti­cle called “I, Fak­er” (The Baf­fler #11, 1998) pub­licly revealed his work. [archive]

The Baf­fler also print­ed a directory of the “fakes,” includ­ing let­ters and oth­er pub­lic writ­ings by the fol­low­ing char­ac­ters:

  • Gary Pike
  • Carl S. Grimm
  • Pavel R. Liber­man
  • T. Michael Bod­ine
  • Noah War­ren-Mann
  • Irv Fuller


He then authored a book on the history of (offline) “fak­ing”: [amazonify]1595584226::text::::Fak­ers: Hoax­ers, Con Artists, Coun­ter­feit­ers, and Oth­er Great Pre­tenders[/amazonify] [tout.com/content/2009/02/fakers_paul_maliszewskis_new_collection.php”>brief inter­view] [more]

For further reading

[amazonify]1595584226[/amazonify] [amazonify]0452286638[/amazonify] [amazonify]1884777384[/amazonify]

First published on February 18th, 2009 at 1:42 pm (EST) and last modified on August 11th, 2013 at 1:48 pm (EST).

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