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, Coffeehouse: Writings from the Web.

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, Gary Benchly, Rock Star. (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”: Fakers: Hoaxers, Con Artists, Counterfeiters, and Other Great Pretenders [tout.com/content/2009/02/fakers_paul_maliszewskis_new_collection.php">brief interview] [more]

For further reading

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