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Five Steps to Create Your Own Hypertext Fiction

by Andrew Johnston 2 months ago in how to
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Electronic literature isn't as hard as it may seem.

Five Steps to Create Your Own Hypertext Fiction
Photo by NASA on Unsplash

For the more experimentally-minded writer, hypertext fiction - a form of nonlinear interactive fiction using electronic documents - is a form with a lot of potential. However, creating hypertext fiction requires a set of technical skills that many writers don't possess.

Fortunately, it's not as daunting as it may seem at first brush. You don't need to be a master hacker to create a hypertext story. With a little patience and some basic computer skills, just about anyone reading this can pull it off.

Earlier this year, I finished the composition of "A Strange Room, Infiltrated by Strange Voices," my own work of hypertext fiction. All in, it took about two weeks. If I can do it, then so can you.

Pick a platform

By its very nature, hypertext fiction can't be composed on many platforms meant for conventional stories. It must be done on a site that allows for many pages to be linked to one another, as the links are the heart of the story.

Any website builder can be used to create a basic hypertext story, including including free and low-cost builders like Weebly, Wix, Squarespace or Wordpress; a Wiki-type platform can work as well, and may be even easier to manage. With a little clever tinkering, even a blogging platform like Blogger or Wordpress.com can do the trick. Using a service with a WYSIWYG editor allows for the creation of the story without the need for any knowledge of code.

For writers who are more technically minded, some coding can allow for the creation of stories with more complex elements. "A Strange Room" called for pages with puzzles, and that meant using HTML to create text prompts and fake password fields. If you have similar plans, make sure you pick a platform that allows for editing the HTML directly.

Choose the setting

Most works of hypertext fiction entail having the reader explore a virtual version of a physical space - anything from a single building to an entire planet. As the reader clicks through the links, they are exploring this space. Due to this dynamic, setting is much more important for hypertext fiction than in most works, and you should put extra thought into this aspect.

One way to use hypertext fiction is to allow the reader to explore a location in another fictional work. This is what I did for "A Strange Room" - the story is set in the house owned by the protagonist's family. This can be used to add an additional layer to an existing project.

Don't feel like you need to be restricted to physical locations. Hypertext fiction can certainly be used to depict more abstract "settings" if that's the kind of story you wish to tell.

Plan it out

Any complex story is going to require some extra planning, but the fact that hypertext fiction includes reader input adds an extra step. Unlike with a standard novel, your reader may not follow the narrative in the same order you've created it. For more complex works, it's even possible that the writer could become lost and miss parts of the narrative. Detailed planning will make both the writing and the reading of the story much easier.

Visual planning is key for this. The simplest tool is a notebook and pen - write out each page you'll need, draw lines between them to indicate the hyperlinks, and make adjustments as needed. Index cards or sticky notes might be better, though, as you will almost certainly need to make adjustments to the structure as you go.

Write it out

Having sweated out the structure, it's time to actually write the story. Again, organization is important here - your story will be scattered across dozens of pages, and keeping the text for those pages neat will make the process much smoother.

But if you only use text, you aren't taking full advantage of the form. Hypertext fiction is an innately multimedia experience. You can use images, audio and video as storytelling tools, and you should take full advantage of this. Leave documents for the reader to pore over, create in-universe news broadcasts - you are limited only by your technical talents.

Test, test, test

An experienced writer should be used to self-editing, but how about bug fixing? Even the most basic hypertext story will require testing to ensure that the links go where they're meant to go. The more complex the code, the more testing is required.

Generally, it's wise to test as you go. Once you have the basic structure, go through your own story, looking for broken links and non-functioning code. While you're doing this, keep an eye out for writing errors as well - each run through the story is both a bug fix and an editorial pass. Any time you significantly change the structure, take another run through it.

Technical errors aren't the only thing you're looking for - you also need to make sure that the reader can navigate the story. Make sure that the story makes logical sense and that puzzles and Easter eggs aren't too confusing.

Conclusion

Hypertext fiction is not for everyone, but almost anyone can master the skills to make it. Whether you're planning an unorthodox story, looking to promote an existing work or just trying to break out of a rut, the form provides an interesting opportunity for anyone with the nerve to try it.

Interested in more of the author's work? Check it out here.

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About the author

Andrew Johnston

Educator, writer and documentarian based out of central China. Catch the full story at www.findthefabulist.com.

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