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Culture

First Facebook novel blurs the line between author and reader

The Austria-based initiator of a Facebook novel, where fans contribute to the storyline, says it's the first of its kind. His hope is that the online work-in-progress could prompt young people to read more literature.

The protagonist, Zwirbler, covered in a red cloud

Zwirbler can become who the readers make him out to be

It begins with pain, piercings and blood. The book is read in installments of just a few lines in each status update from "Zwirbler" its protagonist, but other Facebook junkies can twist the plot as they desire, or simply comment on the writing or events. The result is at times poetic and painful.

Contributors continue a line of thought, description or send the story in a completely different direction. Or they give advice. Like with the first entry, in which Zwirbler contemplates getting medical attention. The next contributor advises going to the hospital since it's the middle of the night.

"I anticipate learning a lot, reading many interesting ideas offered by users and being pleasantly surprised," Gergely Teglasy, the author, told Deutsche Welle about his hopes for the novel written in real time.

A new spin on interactive lit

Screenshot of Facebook novel-in-progresss Zwirbler

Facebook novel-in-progresss "Zwirbler" is co-authored by the readers

Interactive novels are all over the internet, but 40-year-old author Gergely Teglasy (or "TG," as he calls himself) claims his is the first on Facebook. He launched his novel in German for people over the age of 17 at the beginning of this month and, since then, over 3,000 people have "liked" it on the social media site. Fans can also subscribe to a podcast of weekly novel episodes.

He adds a "Zwirbler" status update, or new chapter, to the Facebook page often enough to keep readers interested, but consciously tries to avoid clogging their news feed.

"All of us are fans of certain pages on Facebook, but that's usually quite passive. With Zwirbler, users can get in on the action," he said. "The more people get involved, the more exciting it will be."

Teglasy pointed out that while in the past few decades the internet had changed the way people read, that didn't mean it was restricting. On the contrary, he said that Facebook could enrich the experience with literature by prompting people to keep reading.

Faraway friends

Still, some Facebook critics have postulated that the online community is a substitute for a real one. Could Teglasy's "Zwirbler" novel merely be a substitute for real literature?

Book juxtaposed over a globe

Fans can write together from around the world - in German, for now

"No," he said. "It is literature in a new form; it doesn't aim to replace, but to complement."

The author - who was born in Budapest, Hungary, but studied theater, film and media studies in Vienna - noted that many people just don't have time anymore to read a long, traditional novel, but they're glad to get a quick lit fix in a Facebook status update while sitting at their computers or tapping around on their iPhones.

And Teglasy's Facebook novel is not like text message novels of years past: The abbreviated language of text messaging isn't part of "Zwirbler." Nor is it like recent novels consisting of only e-mails written between characters.

The author as boss

Yet as pioneering as Zwirbler may sound, one could suspect that it's all just laziness on the part of the author when he's feeling uninspired to write something himself. After all, as the German daily Welt Kompakt noted, when Teglasy gets stuck, he can just let his readers (aka friends) continue on with the storyline - or not, by deleting the entry at whim.

A young woman reading in a hammock

Can the Facebook novel spark interest in traditional paper books?

TG said he only deletes posts that are not directly related to the topics, entries which are advertising, for instance. Everything else is permitted, he claims. "And that's the exciting thing: Things can be said in 'Zwirbler' which I personally would object to," he said. "'Zwirbler' will surely end up thinking and doing things [in the novel] which I personally have never experienced, or are foreign to me, or even detestable."

If that's the motto, then the name of both the novel and protagonist Zwirbler is apt. Zwirbeln in German means "to twist;" a Zwirbler is "one who twists." So, in that sense, each person who contributes to the Facebook novel keeps the plot twisting and turning.

Author: Louisa Schaefer
Editor: Kate Bowen

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