December 1996

Root Page of Article: Going Into the Woods, by Christine Boese


There, I said it. I am a blasphemer. I like linearity.

OK, just in small doses. I mean there's such a thing as going too far, right? It is like those highly print-based, typographic poems in free verse. Comes a time when you just gotta beat on the drum to get the engine running. Doesn't mean you gotta write no sonnets.

And plot, it can be your friend. It doesn't have to be a tyrant. Think of it as--JUICE. Right now most hyperfiction suffers from a lack of juice. Well, clarity issues can be a problem too, but I am willing to grope around in the dark for hours if there's something I'm looking for. I'm not a passive reader. I don't have to be spoon-fed. I will actively explore and love every minute of it. You just have to give me a reason.

So how would plot work in this medium? How can a writer use it effectively when a reader can come upon information bass-ackwards?

I can figure three ways. Maybe you can think up some more. Write me and let me know.

  1. The Episodic Approach. Sustain a line every so often, or build up to it. I tried to do that in this hypertext, did you notice? I have a mix of shorter and longer lexias (screen chunks). Try anecdotal length. Take your cue from some of the episodic techniques of soap operas, or anything on television that is subject to frequent interruption.

  2. Anticipate Multiple Audience Pathes. Deliberately put some bread crumbs and red herrings along the way. Don't be too coy about it, but don't hit the reader over the head with a sledgehammer either. Experiment. It is a fine line to walk, and we are all inventing it as we speak.

  3. Build In Redundancy. In anticipating multiple pathes with short episodes, you will need to repeat yourself in major sectors, so the alternate lines can be clear and compelling.
Finally (and this is as close to closure as I will get), watch (and watch out!) for the medium to evolve with the audience. If you want an object lesson in this, all you have to do is try to sit through an old Hawaii 5-0 episode. Count how many times McGarrett gets in and out of his car, opens and closes doors. Nowadays he wouldn't even have to say "Book 'em Dano."

Television and film shorthand continues to evolve. On Hawaii 5-0 in the year 2050, we close in on a tight shot of McGarrett's nostrils flaring, only to discover that the director, Oliver Stone, is projecting images from the Vietnam War on the inside of his nose, computer-enhanced, of course. Then we see a man in cuffs, probably ethnic, getting roughed up. Cut to a shot of Hong Kong, Kowloon. A gray man at a table snarls suggestively. Cut to Hawaii. A judge is handing out a warrant. Before the first commercial, Dano has booked 'em and the man in Kowloon is boarding a plane with a suspicious-looking black bag. Whew!

You better decide where you're going to go. I'm not going to tell you.

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