HYPERTEXT: Reading

September 12th, 2009 by susan


It’s really time to take a break from writing and do some reading; nothing’s proven that to me more than a quick scan of the stats on my latest work, Blueberries.

Of the people who read, only one I believe read the whole thing through. Of those that started, it is more interesting as to how far they got based on which links they chose.

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Those who chose the first link “dreamt” only went a few links further into the story. This trail was more of the character’s background and childhood experience introducing the basis for her later psychosis. One person chose “sex,” which was the last hyperlink, and sorry to say, they didn’t go very far either.

So what is the impetus for selection? Does it depend upon the individual as far as style (first, second, third link in order) or experience either of reading hypertext or of knowledge of the author’s style? Is it the text itself that creates desire to go further in that direction, whether it be the single word (or phrase) that is obviously the link, or the context in which the link resides?

This is vital information for the writer. If you promise sex, you’d better not lead someone into dinner at Grandma’s. All trails must be interesting; just as in straight linear story, each sentence, each writing space, must entice.

Time to read the Bernstein/Greco compilation, Reading Hypertext. As a hypertext writer, this is important stuff for me to know. Meanwhile, I see where I need to tweak either story or linkage in Blueberries.

8 Responses to “HYPERTEXT: Reading”

  1. Chris Says:

    This brings up a question I’ve struggled with for a long time: with hypertext, you have to assume that a reader won’t see everything you write. Even the ones that fall in love with your story. Are you ok with that? I’m still not sure, myself.

    An article your post made me think of: http://www.wired.com/gaming/virtualworlds/magazine/15-09/ff_halo

  2. susan Says:

    The article at wired is great: “‘Here’s the problem,’ Pagulayan mutters, motioning to a computer monitor that shows us the game from the player’s perspective. He points to a bunch of grenades lying on the ground. She ought to be picking those up and using them, he says, but the grenades aren’t visible enough. “There’s a million of them, but she just missed them, dammit. She charged right in.” He shakes his head. ‘That’s not acceptable.’ ”

    I’d love to actually watch someone read one of my hyptertexts. As it is, the stats from Lunar tell me the sequence and how long a reader has taken with the narrative. What that tells me in turn is that either the story got boring (writing style) at some point or confusing (linkage).

    As far as am I okay with a reader missing many of my most eloquently written spaces, I’m getting used to it. There are two evident solutions for the author to take: 1) ensure that the paths lead through the story in a way that would both please the reader and satisfy the writer, and 2) more importantly, make each and every writing space a piece of art. Readers then may or may not go back for more (which they’ll know about only if they can see the map or number of spaces), or I can be happy enough if they’re happy with what they’ve read.

  3. Chris Says:

    I worry, though, that that style of analysis is, well, too analytical to mesh well with storytelling. Maybe it’s just over-romanticizing things, but I feel like there’s something un-measurable to the reading process.

  4. susan Says:

    But don’t you think that the same analysis of reading has been done over the centuries for straight storytelling? We know that folks look for an arc, for fine language, for dramatic effect, and this is all I’m looking for in writing hypertext as well. The problem with hypertext is that the writer has it all in his head and doesn’t always realize that a path a reader may take may make no mention of the vital event that drives the character. Maybe it’s just because I’m still new at this that I don’t carry the threads of pattern as easily woven into the whole.

  5. Chris Says:

    Certainly. My concern with this kind of analysis is that it begins to approach something like the audience response systems I’ve read about where people twist knobs as they watch a TV show or movie to indicate how much they like it. (Come to think of it, they used the same thing on CNN during the presidential debates, which I thought was a horrible idea — so maybe this is where my biases come from.) I think when you reach that level, it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees.

    I certainly look at a hypertext, at least the ones I write, as possessing a “critical path,” as it were — scenes or passages where I don’t think you’ll really understand what is going on in the story as a whole without reading them. I hope that readers will be compelled to go back if they missed out on this path — and I try to structure things that it is not completely avoidable, too, so you at least get a hint of the essence of the story.

    It’s funny, though, I have always thought this kind of thing made me a tradionalist, kind of stick-in-the-mud kind of hypertext writer.

  6. susan Says:

    Perhaps I’ve shot myself in the foot by mentioning to the “audience” that I was watching the stats. I did this on the latest story and realized I could see the stats on Lunar (my webserver) page by page though I don’t know who is reading.

    I’m not sure I write in a “critical path” as you do; I think I have the main narrative in mind, let it go off in whatever directions it wants, yet they seem to all relate back to the whole of the story. I do reread it a zillion times after it’s together to ensure that the vitals are picked up somewhere along the way, and add links if necessary. I think that after doing 100 stories this summer, I may have absorbed a natural inclination to be aware of and incorporate links as I write, knowing what needs to be read. At least an awareness, if not a skill as yet.

    As far as traditionalist writing in hypertext, I think it’s absolutely a blessing in this format to be such a writer. Many of the main obstacles to hypertext readers are based on that “getting lost” feeling and a storyteller of the traditional bent may be just what is needed to invite more readers to try out hypertext. We may not awe the hypertext inventors, but we may just break down some walls with the general reading audience.

  7. Mike Says:

    When I read the Choose Your Own Adventures and similar books in grade school, one of the things I enjoyed was wondering about the path not taken. I flip to another page, and while doing so I spot a picture of the hero with some adventurers or in some encounter I never read. It was just fun to wonder how to get there, even if I never really tried. Maybe it was an internal way of participating in the story writing, but I imagined my own paths to finding those encounters which lead to a good ending.
    As a matter of internal discipline, to keep me from eternally surfing on the interweb, I usually establish rules as I go in to some specific site or page. The more intriguing the site, the more strict the rules, usually. Otherwise I would waste my days away with online encyclopedias. As it was the first link I saw after entering, I decided to try and follow “dreams” whenever I saw it.
    Some people that view a site might have specific intentions that are different from a “reader”. They might be looking for something very specific, and when they find it or realize they won’t find it, they will leave.
    I discovered “Blueberries” through a source that, by it’s nature informed me I would need to go in with the above points in mind. 1) I could daydream about the paths not taken, 2) I should carefully limit my time spent there and narrow the path traveled, 3) I will find something I want here, and when it’s found, I should leave at some arbitrary point (earlier better than later).
    Not quite 25 words or less, but I try.

  8. susan Says:

    Mike, you sound like a very organized individual which may be at odds sometimes with your curious, free-spirited nature. You’re likely the perfect hypertext reader!

    Your choices as they’ve been taken does tell us something about you as a reader, although the first link selected seems to determine (for you, and for this time, anyway) your path onwards through the narrative.

    I particularly like your point #3, about finding what you want from the passages and then leaving. That’s a vital piece of information to a writer that sort of goes with the “leave them wanting more” theory. Each writing space, or page or whatever, needs to produce that desire in the reader to keep them going onward.

    Thanks, Mike, for your valued insight. Each reader is different, and it’s our job I suppose as writers to try to appeal to each individual in some way.

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