Is Wattpad the Spotify of Novels?

"Is Wattpad the Spotify of Novels?" This is a question that struck me when I started browsing wattpad.

I must confess, being an avid book reader with a mini-library inside the bedroom (or should I say a bedroom inside a mini-library?), it is my first time to visit the wattpad website. I have heard about it before, especially in buy-and-sell book groups, but I thought it was just an app for teen tagalog romance because most ads are about such. I didn’t know that anyone could actually upload their own work there. As I browsed the site, I was surprised to see popular novels and even some of my favorite classic literature. Most of my faves though, have either not been made into movies, or I just haven’t seen a movie version nor heard about any. I also noticed the interface, although user-friendly, needs to be simpler. I find it a bit annoying how stories are navigated through clicking “next” and only a short portion is shown per page. There are more spaces above and below the actual content, so it lacks that book-appeal for me.

Anyway, as I looked at the bookshelf beside my computer, my eyes landed on the book The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold. I remember seeing the movie first and learning after, that it was based on a novel. The cinematography and visual effects were great! The acting was realistic. The soundtrack fits very well with its 70’s setting. And, I loved the movie so much that I searched and acquired the book.

When I read the book, I found out that several characters in the novel were not included in the movie and some scenes were not arranged in the same sequence. I was a bit disappointed that such details were not followed in the movie and (not to be a spoiler here) some parts of the story, character personalities were even changed. I understand one of the reasons why movies tend to cut out parts of a story is because they are constrained with the 2-hour run time limit. But to my dismay, a very important character, which was so significant in the book, was never included in the film. And yes, the common dread of book lovers – the ending was also different, well slightly anyway. Although nonetheless, I still love the movie, and both the movie and the book made me cry. I watched the movie again today and even if I knew what’s going to happen next, it still moved me. That’s how good it is.

Before I re-watched the movie, I searched for The Lovely Bones in wattpad and saw a short story fan fiction by “zenapamelax”. The comments were positive although mostly about the movie, so I was encouraged to read on. Comparing her story to the movie and the original novel, I must say that she could have done better. Maybe I had high expectations as she got several votes (stars) and almost 3k reads. She even claimed she got an A in her English class. Her overall story was just passable, for a fan fiction. But it can be compared to a jumbled-up, rushed summary of the movie. Props for the effort, but, technically, there were even some typos and grammatical errors. Maybe for her age, which was not mentioned by the way, it was good writing, thus the A. And this comes to light Melanie Ramdarshan Bold’s article. Social media made writers and readers hungry for followers. Giving praises without constructive criticism won’t make a writer improve on her/his craft. But commenting on others’ work can somehow build up their own audience, as they return the favor by commenting back, and eventually gaining another follower or even attracting other readers to follow. In this, followers become the new currency. Regardless of actual talent, it simply becomes a popularity vote.

Another issue with Wattpad, as mentioned by Bold (p.8),
“Wattpad does not distinguish between fan fiction and fiction” but at the same time, “fan fiction is becoming a commercially viable path for writers and publishers.”
This kind of participatory culture (p.10) was allowing users to remix other available content to produce their own content. And because of the vast number of amateur and budding writers, this genre is becoming influential, while there are those who argue that some, if not most of them, lack the skill and insight of the publishing industry (p.11).

For me, Wattpad is a venue for writers to help spread out their work, broaden their audience and even gain recognition. The authorship and ownership of published works has evolved from printed books to the digital world and it looks promising, especially to the aspiring writers. Self-publishing is actually admirable and I always support DIYs. But overall, is it really a good way to improve on their writing skills and the stories itself? The consumers simply consume what is available. As wattpad continues to grow and gain more consumers and producers, it makes me wonder, will it be just a venue of recycled content, or people wanting to gain followers, without regarding the true art of writing? Or, will it actually challenge the writers to come up with more creative and original content to make themselves stand out and become influencers? Maybe in time, one of these will surface, and maybe I just need to use wattpad more often, to be used to its interface, and to find out.

  The Movie | The Novel | The Short Story Fan Fiction
Ramdarshan-Bold, M. (2016). The Return of the social author: Negotiating authority and influence on Wattpad. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 1-20.
*Originally written on March 4, 2018 for Pop Culture DF


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