This paper was refereed by the Journal of Electronic Publishing's peer reviewers.

Narrative languishes as the unsolved puzzle of hypertext.

Linked presentation as we know it today -- a navigation menu, a table of contents, a list of frequently asked questions (FAQ) -- suits informational material such as technical manuals, government documents, and most scientific research papers. These presentation formats do little to enhance narrative forms, however.

Most discussion of online narrative -- and most experimentation -- has centered on fiction (Coover, 1993, 2000; Minganti, 1996) and literary studies (Landow, 1992; Lavagnino, 1997). Journalism narratives, especially long-form journalism, are overdue for attention.

Steven Johnson, writing in 1997, noted that "The great preponderance of Web-based writing is unapologetically linear. Almost all journalistic stories are single, one-dimensional pieces, articles that would be exactly the same were they built out of ink and paper instead of zeros and ones.... The individual articles themselves rarely offer any navigational options at all" (p. 128).

A new process for writing is needed if online narratives are ever to be compelling. We believe it is not only desirable but also necessary to move journalistic, nonfiction, and even scholarly writing in a direction made possible by hypertext. In this paper we argue that hypertext forms improve the reader's experience of reading, and therefore, hypertext is better for telling particular nonfiction stories.

Rather than deriving the pieces of a hypertext by disassembly, the writer must defer the practice of assembling the text until after all the components are complete -- this practice creates texts that can be adapted as easily to online as to print (whereas texts created for print resist adaptation to hypertext).

The process of structuring these components into a multilinear narrative requires the writer to impose order and make decisions about the threads that will be available to readers. Decisions regarding linking and omission give rise to questions about the author's responsibilities to the story and to objectivity.

If the reader's experience of agency is heightened in hypertext narratives, does it follow that the writer relinquishes authority over the text? That's the control paradox: We contend that the author gives up very little -- perhaps nothing at all.

When hypertext is better

Components defined

Building hypertexts: Process

The control paradox

references for hypertext
Mindy McAdams (author bio) mmcadams@well.com
Stephanie Berger (author bio) stephanie@berger.net