The hypertext novel is known for its puzzle-like quality because it is read in multiple chunks as the hyperlinks take readers into another space with a new section of text. It becomes the reader’s role to piece the story together into a narrative that makes sense. Schneider (2005) explains that the “non-linearity or non-sequentiality, which has always been regarded as a major generic feature of hypertext is said to represent a new kind of textuality” (p. 198). With this non-linear textuality, the reader must navigate and thus interact with the hypertext book.
With the non-linear form came some major challenges. One was that the non-linear became linear in the end anyway as Landow (1992) highlights, “linearity, however, now becomes a quality of the individual reader’s experience within a single lexia and his or her experience of following a particular path, even if that path curves back upon itself or heads in a strange direction” (p. 104). The hypertext book with its deviating linear structure can cause the reader to get lost and decrease their investment in the story. Furthermore, it can leave the reader feeling fatigued and unsatisfied by the ending (Landow, 1992).
A second major issue with the non-linear hypertext narrative is the difficulties it presents for the author. Coover notes that, “the author has a fear of loosing control of the story because it becomes an obligation to write so many different directions of the story” (as cited in Landow, 1992, p. 119). Thus, not only is the reader fatigued by this structure, but the writer is as well. Steven Johnson (2013) reiterates this issue in his article “Why No One Clicked on the Great Hypertext Story” for Wired Magazine:
“It turned out that nonlinear reading spaces had a problem: They were incredibly difficult to write. When you tried to make an argument or tell a journalistic story in which any individual section could be a starting or ending point, it wound up creating a whole host of technical problems, the main one being that you had to reintroduce characters or concepts in every section” (para 5).
The hypertext functionality has resulted in a non-linear narrative that has not satisfied the reader or the writer. So what do these non-linear hypertext narratives look like and can the format be improved to please readers?
Video: Exploring Interactive Fiction
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