Lauren Beukes Explains How to Tell Great Stories About The Internet

Illustration for article titled Lauren Beukes Explains How to Tell Great Stories About The Internet

We live much of our lives online — and even the parts we don't are still touched in hundreds of ways by our digital presences. And yet TV, movies, and books struggle to portray the crossover between our digital and physical worlds in a way that feels real. Here, author Lauren Beukes gives us her take on it.


In a Q&A on her new novel, Broken Monsters, (spoilers ahead!) Beukes answered our questions about her writing schedule, what was on her reading list right now, and, especially, how to write about the internet. In some ways, Beukes explained, the internet is a setting for the story, that needs to be explored much in the same way that a city is:

I always knew it was going to be set in Detroit and that I wanted to explore the wilds of the Internet (only it's not really the wilds, is it, it's more like suburbia, the skin of civility so easily pierced). I was interested in Detroit as a city that many people like to hold up as an example of "everything that's wrong with America". It's the go-to metaphor for urban decay and the death of the American dream, but having grown up in a similar city (johannesburg, in South Africa), I know that cities and their inhabitants are much more complex and interesting than the easy cliches. I wanted to try to get at the real city as somewhere people live and hope and dream - the same way I did with Hillbrow, in Zoo City.


But, in addition to be a place to be explored, Beukes notes that the internet is also a force in the story, pressing characters to act and serving as a potential litmus test for ambitions, desires, and relationships with other characters.


The image of the first body found - half-boy, half-deer, what it meant, who killed him, why here, how these deaths would affect people in the city around him, the ripples violence sends out, what it would mean, what things would spill out and bubble up and break through.

I was interested in creativity and thwarted ambition, in how much it means to us to be seen, to be recognized, how likes and shares and RTs have become an indicator for how we value ourselves, how art needs an audience, anonymity and obfuscating your identity, dreams and the unconscious and the Internet as Id, where the subconscious can vent, losing yourself to the work.

What are some of the stories you've encountered that used the internet in a way that felt real to you, and what about them gave them their accuracy? Give us some examples in the comments.

Image: A look at Detroit, Broken Monsters nondigital setting, from above / NASA


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Any excuse to bring up "I Robot, You Jane" in a completely inappropriate context. Remember: don't let the internet read your grimoire.