Cell phone novels originate from Japan over ten years ago, where a young man by the name of Yoshi started writing a novel on his cell phone consisting of short chapters that fits in a multimedia email message, sent to friends and then forwarded and spread through word of mouth and other makeshift promotional strategies.
Since then, publishers have picked up on this trend and created websites and apps where Japanese users can read and post these stories online under pen names and secret identities, inspiring a culture of serial spontaneity and improvisation, a new generation of aspiring and amateur writers – a majority composed of high school students expressing personal and controversial topics that are considered taboo to mention openly in Japanese culture, such as relationships, rape, bullying, abortion, friendships and betrayals using sparse colloquial conversational language (which in Japanese isn’t considered to be literature material, however is starkly different from “text message lingo” with short forms and abbreviations. It is simply the down to earth, casual, “vulgar”, realistic spoken language of pop culture.)
These books have then accumulated millions of reads and readership, published into print form and made into films, TV drama, anime and manga and so on. The top five bestselling books each year in Japan are often cell phone novels.
Cell phone novels are designed to be written read on cell phone screens and screensizes, regardless whether a writer chooses to write on a computer or a mobile device. The concept triggers the combination of poetry and narration, forming short bite sized chapters utilizing white space, line breaks, fragments, poetic devices and concentrated sensory, emotional or dialogue content, that capitalizes on actual real life rapid fire happenings and lack of ability to process information in perfect clarity. Each chapter is less than 200 words and averages around 50-100.
The style creates boundaries which actually opens doors to imagination and creativity within a box; it encourages young writers to think deeply on choosing the perfect diction, to think outside the box and deliver the maximum potency in between the lines and in omission of detail. It also encourages a haiku-style sentimental art form and a return to art, careful visual structure, that actually presents writers as much more sophisticated and literary beyond their age.
In fact, I would say it encourages the return to literature and poetry in general, despite content being intimately connected with pop and youth culture. It hearkens back to ancient Greek poetry and narrative poetry or plays through the ages, up to the verse novels of today. We bring this onto a technological and social platform, and make it widespread and easily accessible by youth worldwide. It is like having the best of all worlds in writing and reading experience!
Back in 2008, I watched certain Japanese television drama like Koizora, Akai Ito and various, like many fans of Japanese entertainment and realized they were originally cell phone novels. So I did some research on cell phone novels and realized the potential of the literary form, and came across Textnovel.com which is the first site in North America to recognize and support cell phone novels. At the time, it was only a budding concept and there were no actual cell phone novel stories on the site. There were many pieces of prose fiction posted but nothing like the original Japanese form. However, there was a member at the time who translated a few Japanese cell phone novels into English. When I read them in English, I realized the magic of them and remember tearing up over the conclusion of one in particular. I timidly endeavoured to copy the original Japanese style and write my own (which is coincidentally also my first time posting any writing online) and it became the very first English language cell phone novel in the West or possibly in the world in general. There are a few countries who had promoted the concept but there weren’t writers who followed the unique literary tradition or format.
After Secondhand Memories, many writers of all ages from all over the world began to take up the mantle and get involved on Textnovel, following this movement. Over the past five years, it has matured a lot and we’ve been exploring the possibilities and the limits of the style, becoming more philosophical, artistic and poetic at times, or returning to the very root of the tradition with simplistic language and focusing on emotions, or even incorporating visual elements like changing fonts and sizes of fonts – all the while working with the short poetic chapter formats. Textnovel has become a niche site and currently hosts the exclusive English speaking cell phone novel community and the largest collection of English cell phone novels in the world.
It is really inspiring to see how something from another culture can inspire a member to translate work halfway across the world, and to his own surprise, in turn inspired my work, and then to my own surprise, it had gathered much popularity and in turn inspired countless thousands of young people whom to this day I work with often on a very personal scale, continuing the goodness of inspiration and connecting from art to heart, one heart to another, one life to another. It is the most rewarding experience to hear the surprise from the translator of the cell phone novels for example and to hear from readers who look up to me or had their lives changed by our words. The beauty and the power of profoundly speaking cell phone novel literature in particular is amazing and reaches far and wide.
As our community continues to grow and expand, we are also hoping and in the works of gathering local members in cities to take it from the virtual world to the concrete metaphoric streets, by introducing clubs to schools, presenting at conventions, and hopefully working with local media and industry related organizations.
Secondhand Memories is also in the publishing process and will be out in print at the end of 2014 or early 2015, awaited by readers for a few years now as a keepsake, becoming the first traditional cell phone novel to be published. Following Secondhand Memories will be a line up of more to come for sure.
We also hope to build a strong core group of cell phone novelist leaders on Textnovel and set up a proper independent official cell phone novel writer’s association resource website, blog and directory, and from there spread the movement to the corners of the web, for example to Wattpad by working with Wattpad staff in the near future. There are also a lot more things planned and we hope that the movement will continue to gain momentum for sure! If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me!
What are Cell Phone Novels?
Intro to Cell Phone Novels Documentary, COMEX Media Interview (2013)
Please tell us a little about the origin of cell phone novels?
You have described the cell phone novel style as the ‘power of minimalism’ – tell us a little about what characterises a cell phone novel?
How did you become the first cell phone novelist in the West?
How do you see the cell phone novel developing further in the West?