What is Actor-Network Theory and why does it matter to my writing?
Actor-Network Theory is a philosophical theory in which everything (people, places, events, ideas) are all interconnected through the points at which they intersect, and where all of those things hold equal weight in those interconnections.
For instance, with 9/11, you have an intersection of:
people, (terrorists, citizens, government leadership, pilots, passengers, casualties, rescue workers, onlookers, those who lost someone, those who almost lost someone, the media, the rest of the nation, the rest of the world, foreign lives that were lost in the ensuing war, etc.)
places, (New York, The World Trade Center, The Pentagon, the airports, the planes, the field where the fourth plane crashed, The White House, The Middle East, etc.)
events, (hijackings, plane crashes, burning buildings, building collapses, suicides, mourning, The Patriot Act, war, propaganda, etc.)
and ideas (fear, terrorism, death, suicide, war, pride, protection, patriotism, capitalism, paranoia, politics, greed, corruption, retaliation, as nation as connected by an event, and the lists could go on).
The point is that in Actor-Network Theory, you don’t see people that connect all these other things, but that these other things are actors/actants/agents, playing an equal role too.
But how is that relevant to writing?
Because, plotting and world-building.
According to the Branderson and the rest of the Writing Excuses team, you as the author should know and understand more about your story world than anyone else. And the more interconnected everything in your story is, the better it all ties in together.
Some of the most satisfying awesome things for readers are when that random tidbit of information that showed up for some other reason in book one and again in book three becomes crucial to your plot and climax in book seven.
So the more you can understand the ways in which things in your story world inform other things, the more authentic your story will feel to the reader.
For example, one of my music teachers, in our very first lecture, said, “they say that trying to talk about music is a lot like to trying to dance about architecture.”
Funny and unrelated as that may sound, we all got the point, that something both as widespread and individual, as public and personal, as music, wasn’t something to be understood through talking, but rather through experience; practical application and active listening.
But when we look at two seemingly unrelated things, like music and architecture, through an Actor-Network Theory perspective, suddenly seemingly unrelated things find connection and we see that everything informs everything else that follows.
Ironically enough, in another of my music classes this semester, we watched a Ted Talk by David Byrne from Talking Heads (link here- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Se8kcnU-uZw ) about the way architecture has informed music; the types and styles of music that developed as they did and what became popular when it did.
Basically, the types of acoustic spaces used for music performance (from choral music in cathedrals to opera in theatres, to chamber music in smaller personal parlours, to Afro-inspired dance, swing, jazz, etc. in small clubs, to disco in discotheques, to anthems and ballads in stadiums, to grunge and punk rock again in small clubs, to rap and hip-hop in cars, and modern pop music for the mp3 player) and how the evolution of musical styles show a direct correlation to changes in public and private audience space. People begin creating with their audience space, their medium, in mind.
As most things do, this got me thinking about writing and publishing. The eBook market is something that has developed specifically through the development of technology and a new electronic medium. Now, hundreds, probably thousands of authors, myself included, are self-publishing direct to Amazon. Many of whom are making a living by adapting their “music” to a new space, a new platform.
Many are writing weekly or monthly How To books on any range of subjects. Many new fiction authors are releasing shorter, less-polished novella- and novelette-length books in serial form, creating series with twenty or thirty books to them and releasing them monthly or even quarterly, for much cheaper than people can buy hard copy books.
If you can build up a following of even a thousand true fans who will spend 3 or 4 bucks a month buying the next instalment of your series, well, you’re making a steady 2 to 3 thousand dollars a month. And if each one of those fans recommends your series to at least one other friend, well, you’ve got a potential there for exponential growth.
And so while things like music and architecture and eBook publishing might all seem fairly unrelated from the outset, when you start to examine and unfold the intangible spiderweb that connects peoples and places and events and ideas, like any good story plot will, you begin to see how everything is connected and influences everything that comes afterwards.
And this skill and understanding is crucial for building a well-tied together story and world that readers can really get into.
So I don’t really understand the controversiality behind the Actor-Network Theory. It seems pretty straight forward. It’s all about connections. Like how everybody is 6 people away from knowing anybody else on the whole planet. Or how 7 billion can eventually come from just 2. It’s almost like a new and somewhat inverted way of looking at the Butterfly Effect.
So, reader/writer, what are two seemingly unrelated things connected directly by you?