HYPERTEXT: Fake Freedom of Choice?

November 27th, 2013 by susan

On the TV cartoon series “Family Guy,” the writers chose to kill off a major character (Brian, the family dog) on a recent episode. The public uproar inspired media coverage and twittering and Facebook posts and pages to express not only (some) viewer outrage, but an attempt to reverse the event and its implications in the series.

Today I also noted that one of my favorite PBS shows, “Doc Martin” in its latest season (which is not yet available here in the U.S.) has chosen to write into the script an automobile accident in which a starring character is not killed, but injured. Here again, some of its audience is upset by the scene and is voicing that displeasure and shock. Some using as a basis for their opinion that it’s too real for what they expect as a comedic entertainment.

My question is this: While audience reaction is certainly the main goal of any art form, at what point does it interfere with the writer’s freedom of expression? His/her right to write what was in his/her head rather than to allow the reader/viewer to rewrite the script more to their liking? I remember a young woman in one of my creative writing classes whose critique was always focused on rewriting students’ stories to a happy ending.

When I first got into the study of narrative hypertext and the possibilities it offered I believed that the reader “wrote” the story by controlling his choice of links to wander different plots of story. As I wrote hypertext narrative, I realized that the original author still maintains control by the necessity of keeping the flow of narrative to whatever ultimate end or endings he has devised to his story.

This may be why hypertext does not have the appeal to a wider audience. People REALLY want control of the story, particularly when it is implied as it is by hypertext form.

What then, would make it more effective to meet the demands of today’s social media conscious and highly vocal reader? Shall the writer include specifics as to where the choice will lead? Should it offer the choices as did “Choose Your Own Adventure” Books so that the reader has the potential of making a more informed decision? As hypertext stories are written now, it seems that the highlighted word that offers a link to another area of story is still a mystery as to where it takes the character and the reader. The choice of word to offer as the link is often a clue (i.e., “local bar” versus “church” but even then it’s the original writer’s connection and not the reader’s.

It’s quite a dilemma. What exactly can we as writers do to upgrade our use of the medium to match the new audience of readers?


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