The Last Final

By Kendra Hacker

The Pros and Cons of Hypertext Fiction

After reading the second chapter of "Reading and Writing the Electronic Book" by Catherine C. Marshall for class I was interested in learning more about the different changes that are occurring for both the readers when they experience a text and for writers when they are writing due to the different platforms that have emerged because of advances in technology. I decided that I wanted to expand more on the evolution of writing, specifically focusing more on the different forms of new writing types, as once technology was created writers changed mediums and some aspects of the genres.

Web content writing is changing how we, as readers, experience text and learn. This virtual writing allows both readers and writers to have more accessibility to a variety of content while also having more freedom in choosing what they want to read. The writing that was seen in physical items like novels or dictionaries has been evolving into web content writing. With technological advances constantly occurring and affecting how people experience things, it's not surprising to see that the print medium has been deemed outdated to the current generation. A lot of print mediums, like newspapers, either died out or had to change to the web medium in order to stay alive.

Specifically, writing has greatly evolved, even before the World Wide Web was created. Though printed books tried to counter the power that authors had by including footnotes, the true freedom that decreased the author's power was hypertext, because it is created and read on computers where lines didn't exist. One genre that tested out the use of hypertext was fiction. With the introduction of technology, some writers created hypertext fiction. Hypertext fiction, like all of web content writing, allows writers to take alternative approaches to their writing while using the web to to challenge both themselves and the readers. Michael Joyce was considered the first hypertext fiction writer in 1987 with his fiction called "Afternoon". Unlike using wikis like we do now, hypertext fiction writers at this time used software like Storyspace or Hypercard. This type of software was used both for the creation and viewing of the hypertext fiction pieces.

Although the software helped create hypertext fiction, it wasn't until 1993 that the World Wide Web became available for the public to use. The World Wide Web is similar to the construction of hypertext fiction, that is that uses hypertext to interlink the different links. The addition of the web platform allowed hypertext fiction to gain popularity. The most note-worthy hypertext fiction was written in 2001 by Caitlin Fisher, called, "These Waves of Girls". Hypertext fiction was popular at this time because, like interactive fiction, it allowed readers to be in control of what they were going to read by giving them the option either to click on the hyperlinks if they wanted to read more or continue reading their same part. Simply, hypertext fiction doesn't have a set path that readers have to take, instead the readers can read the work in multiple different ways by making decisions based on their own interests. Hypertext allows readers to have access to information that will help them read the work. People liked this better than print medium writing because print writing allowed the author to dictate the meaning and patterns of the writing. I think that Steve Krug would not fully-agree with the use of hypertext fiction, as it allows readers to think about the writing instead of just reading it, since they have links of information that they can choose to read. In Chapter 6 of Krug's book, "Don't Make Me Think", Krug says, "People won't use your Web site if they can't find their way around it." I think the same advice can apply for hypertext fiction. According to my Chapter 6 notes, without any sense of direction, or navigation system so readers can see where they are, readers aren't going to want to read on because they want to feel like they are on track.

As I researched more on hypertext fiction, I discovered that unlike the writing that writers would have to do for print medium, hypertext fiction writers had to write in the HTML language and include links into their work. The HTML language was one of the factors that described the author's meaning and helped create the shape of the story. Though the HTML language was one of the reasons why hypertext fiction worked so well, one of the problems was that it was harder for writers to write. One of the reasons that writers might have a harder time writing hypertext fiction is that they have to incorporate the works of others into their work while still attempting to create a new piece of work. I can see where this would be difficult because they have to try and come up with a new way of telling a story and that can sometimes become difficult when you use previous work.

At the Brown University Hypertext Fiction Workshop, professors tried to change students' reading habits and teach them new narratives so that they could create hypertext fiction themselves. These writers struggled with creating hypertext fiction because it was an innovative form of writing that didn't begin with structure. These students didn't have structures to follow, they were left to their imagination to write and create a space of their own. Many writers tried to rebuild the structures that they were used to having and I think that this is common for web content writers. Structure and prose are still a main focus when it comes to hypertext. One writer, Alvin Lu, said, "The emphasis of a hypertext (narrative) should be the degree to which the reader is given power, not to read, but to organize the texts made available to her." Krug would disagree with this statement because as web content writers, one of the main priorities is to make readers' experience easy where they don't have to think, nor should they have to organize the work. Though I think that Krug would agree with the idea that hypertext allows readers to create a unique experience depending on what they choose to read, because hypertext fiction seems much like websites where users can pick and choose where they go on a site, also creating a unique experience.

Since hypertext fiction was popular in the early 90s to the early 2000s, I thought that it still might be a popular platform for writing because we are in the digital age. Since there is an access in technology I thought that hypertext fiction would be as popular as electronic books. I found out that hypertext fiction has a few issues that are hindering it's breakthrough in the current literary community. Firstly, much like the struggle that writers have while trying to write hypertext fiction, readers also struggle. Readers are used to traditional linear reading, that is reading from left to right. Secondly, there are technical design issues because technology is always changing, causing constant updates to the hypertext fiction. Lastly, hypertext fiction faces issues with copyright laws and digital rights because it incorporates links of previous work done by others.

Hypertext fiction was popular before the World Wide Web was made public. I think that this type of writing is similar to blogs in relation to the interconnecting links that will lead readers to more information. In consideration with Krug, I think that hypertext fiction doesn't follow Krug's approach to web usability because it makes readers think. Though not as popular as it was in the beginning I think that hypertext fiction is an important part of literacy because it impacted how hypertext can be used creatively.
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