The Rise of the Meta-narrative

There’s a trend I’m seeing in little internet communities lately. A series on the internet will be created in what seems to be episodic little bits, but then eventually it’s revealed that these episodes are connected with deep lore. The comic/podcast/youtube series you thought was just about scooby-doo or food reviews is actually something bigger and often a bit convoluted. Everything before this had all been a set up to make you say “oh sh*t, there’s lore!?”

I’m interested in the phenomenon, as it feels both new and always draws me in. But is it a new thing or has this sort of story telling been popular for much much longer. I’m really interested in this but I don’t know where to start. Can you think of any examples of this style of story telling (from recent times or before)? Was there one big examples that sparked the small fires of surprise lore to spread? Why do you think these are popular, is it just because they’re fun or is there something else? Please leave a reply, I’m really interested in talking about this.

If I haven’t made myself clear about what it is exactly I’m talking about please let me know so I can clarify. Below are some examples that I’m familiar with but I’m sure there are plenty more.

Badvertising (a comedy podcast about advertising badly)

Scoob and shag (a parody Web comic of Scooby doo) CW blood, Horror themes, drug use

The Tues Day Cinematic Universe (a comedy youtube channel of short videos of clip art and videogame music)

Things I bought at sheetz (a food review quiz show featuring Justin Mcelroy)

Would you consider lonelygirl15 to be an example of this?

As for pre-web examples, there’s Pale Fire, which is ostensibly the annotated final poem of a (fictional) author where it quickly becomes clear that the editor writing the annotations is borrowing the platform to tell his own story.


It depends on whether you mean the existence of a larger lore tying a bunch of small, seemingly individual works together, or the intentional act of making that lore a surprise. But in any case, my mind immediately goes back to all the Stephen King I read in high school, because I think his whole multiverse fits either definition to an extent.

In particular, I remember finally getting to The Dark Tower, and realizing that he (either by retconning or original intent — probably a combination of both) had basically set his entire repetoire of fiction in one massive multiverse. Dark Tower is where all of that really pays off because it’s actually about that multiverse, about the forces holding it together and the ways in which it’s decaying. And a bunch of his bigger, seemingly standalone works like IT, Salem’s Lot, Insomnia, and The Stand are all heavily linked either by characters, locations, plot threads, or some combination thereof. But this isn’t something you’ll experience or see if you don’t read through a good 10,000 pages of fiction first, and you can still take everything here besides The Dark Tower as standalone fiction without it losing any value.


Technically, the same is true of Michael Moorcock’s work (at least, initially): whilst he welded almost all of his fiction together into one Multiverse, initially that wasn’t the case - the whole Eternal Champion motif only turns up for the first time in the Erekosë sequence (10 years into his career as a novelist), and his earlier works with the early Elric of Melniboné and Dorian Hawkmoon stories were retrofitted after the fact - there’s even an edit to the reprinted versions of the first Erekosë novel which adds “Elric”, “Dorian” and others of his protagonists to a list of previous incarnations of the Champion (that list, in the original, only has “historical myths” like Arthur, Roland, and so on).


This internet thing you’re talking about is called unfiction. It’s a form of fiction that got big partly due to corporate PR alternate reality games and splintered off into a lot of original online projects. Popular older examples would be Marble Hornets, The Wyoming Incident (which has mutated to the point the current version is about the people who did the real life ARG and one of them may be trying to murder the others), lonelygirl15, and so forth.

The idea is to make something that the audience can believe is real, that straddles the line between traditional fiction and real life.

More modern examples would be Nathan Barnett’s Dad, POSTcontent, LOCAL58, Ben Drowned (there is much, much more to that then the creepypasta and those videos you would not believe).

What you’re specifically describing where regular web stuff reveals more wild stuff is a common trick. One of the big three Slenderman projects, EverymanHybrid, used this in particular by presenting itself as a normal fitness channel made by a few guys, then Slendy started appearing in the background, and then it turns out they were doing a thing where they decided to have some fun with the audience with little Slendy cameos until they notice ones they didn’t make and then Slenderman is in their house and has a Jacob’s Ladder head shake freakout and everything quickly changes.

If you want more information, I highly recommend the channel Night Mind on Youtube, hosted by Nick Nocturne. He even posted a video explaining the concept of unfiction. Older videos have bad audio mixing but as long as you avoid his snarkier spring season videos, you should get a good primer on how this works and how long it has been going on.