“real” reading, hypertext writing (and reading), and semicolons

I saw a couple of interesting articles on the WIRED magazine website:

1)Is Listening to Audiobooks Really Reading? (WIRED’s spiritual advice columnist on bardic traditions for a modern age—and why book snobs worry about the wrong things.)”

(I had a whole rant written about this, but then I remembered that I don’t do rants. There are enough of those on the internet as it is.)

2)Why No One Clicked on the Great Hypertext Story

I’ve written about hypertext stories before, and I’ve written a hypertext story.

I’m sort of thinking of writing another one, not because I want to write a hypertext story, but because some stories naturally go in that direction.

So, here are the reasons that I think hypertext stories didn’t catch on:

1) In my experience, the only audience for hypertext stories is people who write hypertext stories. I’ve never written stories in Esperanto (obviously), but I think writing in hypertext is probably like writing in Esperanto, as far as the potential audience goes.

2) Writing hypertext is a lot of work. As I wrote before: “If you wrote a 5,000-word short story, with just one ‘fork in the road,’ that would end up being two 5,000-word stories, each of which has to work. From then on, for each new fork, you can do the math.”

So, compared to a regular story, more work and fewer possible readers.

3) Here’s another factor I just thought of. My first hypertext story was written back in the early 1990s, not long after the Web was invented — and before a lot of people (including me) had internet access (and when a lot of the “internet access” available didn’t even include the Web).

I downloaded a program from a BBS which enabled the creation of the hypertext story, and then you uploaded the text and a “reader” program to BBSs for people to download and run on their own computers. I even paid the guy who wrote the program to add one more feature to a special version for me.

This was a rather clumsy system, and I don’t think it had a lot of downloads, but one advantage was that it was not a Web page. Writing stories on the Web (which I do, obviously) means they’re just more Web pages. That may be one reason I make the HTML versions, which can be downloaded and printed, or loaded on Kindles or other e-readers.

A novel, for example, should be a discrete thing, maybe on paper or maybe as an e-book, but it’s not the same if it’s just pages scattered through the Sunday NY Times.

This is exacerbated in hypertext, because the way I’d want to do a hypertext story would require conditional links — where the same link would go do different locations depending on various conditions. (The Web is not designed that way, nor should it be, since I can only imagine the nefarious purposes for which it would be used. But if there was a hypertext system which wasn’t the Web, which could operate according to different rules, that would be interesting.)

(There was something called XML, which at some point was supposed to be the next step beyond HTML — the code behind every website — but it didn’t take off the way it was originally supposed to. It’s used in Web pages, but it has to be accessed by regular old HTML. You can’t just create Web pages entirely in XML and have browsers display them, so the parts of the XML standard which I wanted to use didn’t pan out.)

I use the Web because it’s there. It’s the easiest way to do something that’s like what I want to do, and it means I can concentrate on the writing rather than trying to figure out how to become a programmer, too.

And, of course, even if I did become a programmer and create the hypertext structure I’d want for a specific project, see the point above about audience.

You know what I do like? Books about punctuation.

I just bought the book, I’ll report back when I’ve read it.

Also, this is charming, and also sensible: “Game of Thrones author George RR Martin: ‘Why I still use DOS’

(Part of the enjoyment, I confess, is to read an article about using DOS written by somebody who obviously never used DOS and doesn’t really understand what it was.)

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