About the time the earth cooled, I learned to build websites by taking an online class called Hypertext Fiction and Poetry. I never became much of a web designer, and then I fell in love with fiction writing. But I never forgot what fun it was to write fiction in hypertext.
The way hypertext worked, I’d scatter internal links to other places in the story. Readers could click on a link without reading the rest of the current page. They might never come back to the page they left, or they might click on a link that did bring them back, returning to 1906 from a time in the character’s life in 1910.
Hypertext fiction didn’t only abandon the strict linear structure we’ve had in storytelling since our ancestors stood up in caves by firelight and dramatized how Og defeated the mastodon. It also meant that the listener became a partner, sort of, in the story. By clicking one of two or three links on any given page, one reader assured himself of a far different story experience than another reader had. A far different experience than the author intended, perhaps.
That meant that the author gave up control of the story. I couldn’t control which links the reader clicked on first. But it sure was fun to plan the links.
I could develop routes for the paths a reader might take through the story, and assure each reader got a coherent story no matter which links were chosen.
Or I could just put in random links and let the reader fly.
Except for some avant garde writers, hypertext is pretty much gone from fiction and poetry now as technology has swept it out to sea and replaced it with enhanced e-books and transmedia.
Already I can see the uses of blending music, video, and other forms to break up the linear storyline — but only if the story could benefit.
Suppose a soldier plodding along a dirt road in enemy territory, begins to hear echoes of a favorite song from childhood? The audio can be embedded in the text and the reader might hear it as he reads on about the character’s sore feet, the throbbing wound in his scalp. The advantage fiction has over film is that we fiction writers can develop the character’s inner life in a way film cannot. We and poets can get inside the characters’ minds and hearts, reveal the truth that another medium can’t do.
Or suppose a newly bereaved character sees a butterfly and immediately recalls how the lost loved one collected everything with a butterfly motif? Bits of video could bring that to the reader’s mind with immediacy and force. We’d have both the inner life in thought via words, and the present-day butterfly flitting about, amid other scenes involving the loved one and butterfly things.
Or Dan Stark, my protagonist in the Vigilante Series, recalls an incident from a few months back that causes him to associate a significant object with a crime. Or another memory triggers a feeling of guilt.
There are lots of other ways we can blend audio, video, and writing in an ebook. The exciting thing is that the technology exists. It’s here, in HTML5, which I’ve been buried in for two days. That’s not enough, for sure, to make me adept at using it, but I see some of the possibilities.
The possibilities are endless. The future is exciting!