Contemporary Novels Respond Creatively to the Media Influence

The Internet has not only altered the way we live, communicate, and think, it has also breathed new life into the contemporary book market. More and more 21st-century writers invoke new media in their literary texts and explore the limits of the novel as a medium by using intermedial and transmedial storytelling techniques.

"Intermedial and transmedial storytelling techniques are not isolated phenomena, but rather they form an integral part of contemporary fiction," argues researcher Anna Lena Weigel. In her dissertation, she examines how contemporary novels respond to the influence of the Internet and new media.

‘Fictions of the Internet’ as an umbrella term

Anna Lena Weigel created the label ‘fictions of the Internet’ as an umbrella term and used it in three ways: first, to describe cultural, medial, and ideological fictions and myths surrounding the Internet that masquerade as truth while actually being false. This concerns, for instance, the ubiquitous assumptions and beliefs that information found online is reliable, that one can surf the Net anonymously and that our online data is not only safe but also controllable.

The second meaning of the term refers to novels that thematize and critically reflect on such fictions and myths of the Internet age. Finally, she uses ‘fictions of the Internet’ as a generic label to subsume all the innovative 21st-century novels that deal with and make use of new media and the Internet on a thematic, structural, and transmedial level.

Novel responses to the changing media landscape

According to Anna Lena Weigel, ‘fictions of the Internet’ respond to the media influence of the 21st-century with regard to their content, form, materiality, technological support as well as their interactive and participatory features. Common themes that are discussed in contemporary novels like Dave Eggers’ The Circle (2013) have to do with online messaging, cyberbullying, online dating, sexting, digital surveillance, identity theft, and cybercrime. 

Currently, one can also find a number of novels that are entirely, or partly, written in the form of one or more imitated media. Whereas Lucy Kellaway’s Martin Lukes: Who Moved My BlackBerry™? (2005) is wholly constructed in the form of e-mails, other novels periodically integrate imitated media, such as tweets in Caroline Kepnes’ You (2014), or Facebook status updates in Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke’s The Status of All Things (2015).

Moreover, increasing numbers of ‘fictions of the Internet’ have responded to the media influence by spreading their plots across multiple media (e.g., blogs, social networking sites) to provide readers with (additional) information in the form of visual, audio, and audio-visual content. A prominent example of this type is Marisha Pessl’s Night Film (2013) that features a reading application. Furthermore, Andreas Winkelmann’s thriller Deathbook (2013) has been published as printed, electronic, and enhanced book. Readers of the enhanced version are encouraged to actively engage with the transmedial narrative and to become part of the novel’s plot (some readers even receive a personal message from the murderer via letter, phone or e-mail).

Rise of new genres

“Printed as well as electronic and enhanced (e-)books use the influence of new media as an inspiration and opportunity for further artistic innovation. The Internet and new media can therefore be seen as ‘catalysts or motors of generic change’. Whereas some genres like the ‘e-mail novel’ have already been defined by literary scholars, other literary experiments are still in the process of development. For this reason, the generic field of ‘fictions of the Internet’ could poten­tially change with new technological advances and with each new literary experiment”, explains Weigel.

Based on her findings, Weigel proposes new genres, such as ‘psychological Internet thriller’, ‘Facebook novel’, ‘Internet satire’, ‘multimedia novel’, as well as ‘Internet-enhanced mystery novel’. According to her, the next years will show to what extent the Internet and new media will continue to change the book market by modifying or even creating new subgenres and whether ‘fictions of the Internet’ itself will be recognized as a distinct genre in the future.


Anna Lena Weigel will defend the doctoral dissertation entitled "’Fictions of the Internet’: - From Intermediality to Transmedia Storytelling in 21st-Century Novels" in the Faculty of Arts, University of Helsinki, on 28 June 2018 at 8:30. The public examination will take place at the following address: International Graduate Centre for the Study of Culture; Alter Steinbacher Weg 38, 35394 Giessen (Germany); room 001. The dissertation is a cotutelle dissertation: the candidate will be granted a PhD degree in both University of Helsinki and University of Giessen.

Professor Sibylle Baumbach, University of Innsbruck, will serve as the opponent, and Professor Klaus Brax as the custos.

The dissertation abstract can be accessed through the E-thesis service.

Contact details:

Anna Lena Weigel