The early classics of hypertext fiction were not, for the most part, very interested in storytelling or plot. It was the ’80s and then it was the ’90s, and these were not not the concerns of the moment. Remember as well that anything written for performance on a computer had to cope with the presumption that computers were for philistines and children.
I think it would be nice to feel confident that we can write a hypertext page-turner. I believe I know a dozen writers who are sure they could do it, but don’t see why anyone would bother. I believe I know a dozen critics who know it cannot be done. Right at the moment, I do not know anyone – anyone — who is attempting to do it.
Besides, I have so much spare time.
So: how might we make a hypertext that’s a page-turner? Here are some ground rules to get started.
- The protagonist is wonderful. And she’s in trouble, because the whole world is in trouble. You want to know how this turns out.
- You are not the protagonist: we’re not playing games. This is a tricky but critical point; getting it wrong has set the entire field back ten years.
- Your job is not to rescue the princess, or even to arrange for the princess to be rescued. Your job is to set the scene, to decide whom we will watch and with whom they will talk. If this is Hamlet on the holodeck, it might turn out tonight that it’s the tragedy of a girl who died because the prince she loved teased her mercilessly. It might be the story of how Horatio came to be Chancellor of the University of Copenhagen.
- There are a million stories in the naked city. We have a large cast of potential characters, and let the reader’s choices guide which become the center of the action.