What is hypertext?

We’ve spent the last few weeks talking about hypertext, analysing the way it has developed and effected fiction writing and the internet and what not, however I think there has still been a lack of understanding amongst some classmates about what hypertext actually is. I heard a couple of times in class yesterday “but what even is hypertext?” I’d say I’m in this group myself. So I headed over to the trusty Google machine and searched “examples of hypertext”. In my trawling I came across a piece of hypertext fiction called 24 Hours.

Firstly, the story starts off at the house, and I had the choice of entering or leaving. In my first attempt at the story I left. And then I got kind of stuck in three places, I went from the book shop, to the candle shop, to the florist and I felt kind of trapped, I could go back and forth between the three, but neither led to a new narrative. It wasn’t until I went into the café that the story continued. Weirdly, when I was trapped in these three places, I felt kind of anxious, I wanted to press the back button on the browser and go to the start again and go in the house. However I clicked through and met Polly, the girl who lives in the house, and as I continued to click through I ended up back at the house anyway. To cut a long confusing story short, I kept going through the story and made my way to the end of the 24 hours.

While it was interesting, and there were so many things to discover, I don’t think I enjoyed the story as much as your usual sequential narrative. There was a build of tension in many stages, but the tension never really reached its peak, and the protagonist’s angst never really eventuated or was resolved. Jess arrived, met some people and left, without her questions really being answered, it all felt slightly mundane. Maybe if I try it again it will be better, but I don’t think the narrative actually went places that were exciting and interesting, the tension would build and then drop off quite quickly. I guess I don’t want to sound too critical of hypertext, because this is only one example of hypertext fiction, my understanding is quite limited, and we’re probably going to spend a fair bit more time learning about it so it must be important to networked media, but this example doesn’t quite grab me.

Landow outlines four elements of hypertext which make it more effective and engaging:

  1. Reader choice, intervention and empowerment
  2. Inclusion of extra linguistic texts
  3. Complexity of networked structure
  4. Four degrees of multiplicity and variation of literary elements such as plot, characterization and so forth.

I think 24 Hours perhaps was lacking in these areas, and as not as complex as effective hypertext can be. I guess I will have to keep searching for more examples, and explore the genre more to gain a better understanding of how hypertext is meant to work as a form of narrative.

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