Hypertext '08: Susan Gibb, The Hypertext Effect: the Transfiguration of Writing and the Writer

Steve introduced Susan Gibb as a driving force behind the writing and digital media culture in a small town in Connecticut.  (I’m really impressed by what comes from Tuxnis Community College).

Susan presented us with the thinking behind the creation of a 300-node creative hypertext work in StorySpace.

Susan walked the audience through the process of a single “writing space” morphing into a story.  As the writer moves in time, the character reveals her past through vignettes. Reflections (from the present looking back) and memory (more dramatic and lyrical than the present.)

Hypertext welcomes “those neat distracting ideas” that we have to squelch into order to develop an idea in a linear format.

[My question… what does this do to focus? Are 1000 story spaces, of which 300 are really good, better than a story with 300 good story spaces?  Are 300 story spaces, of which 30 are phenomenal, preferable to a story with just 30 spaces?  Moving from brainstorming and world-building to the narration of details can be tricky… Susan is very careful and meticulous about what she does, and while like Alan she’s inspired by the openness of the medium, my mind jumps to how I can use this in a class full of students who are taking basic comp, and therefore haven’t developed even the basic skills that contribute to a coherent paragraph, much less a coherent webtext.  Susan’s experience introducing multimedia to older people can build on the print literacy that a 75-year-old has developed over a lifetime of reading.]

Susan discusses the separation between the writer and character, and referred in passing to “One of the Annes,” which I found interesting. 

[I never think of the “you” in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novel as having multiple personalities, but of course if the book were a “Develop-Your-Own-Consciousness” novel or “Interpret-Your-Own-Metaphors” book, then perhaps I’d need different language to describe the experience.]

Just after I wrote the above, Susan just mentioned the CYOA format…

Susan notes that a linear form needs a reason to go off on a side-track, but in hypertext you don’t need a reason. [Again, does that limit the focus? I don’t mean to suggest Susan is encouraging frivolous side-trips, since of course the reader can avoid sidestories.  What implications does this have for “Murder your darlings” — Quiller-Couch’s advice for writers who cling too much to passages that just don’t fit. “Marginalize your darlings”?]

Susan says she feels she hasn’t mastered the hypertext form… she says she doesn’t mind when the reader misses side stories, but she does have a “full” text in mind and she wants to make sure the reader experiences it all.

[Is this why she says she hasn’t mastered the form?  Would there be no difference between vital nodes and optional nodes if she had mastered the form, or if she masters the form will she be more confident in her ability to steer the reader, or if she masters the form will she embrace its differences and not worry it?]

Her narrative structure depends upon a loop, leaving the reader with uncertainty… suggests the image of macrame, with the threads forming a “complete story”.

Susan noted that short sentences increase the pace in hypertext, but also the number of writing spaces. A short lexia forces the reader to stop and contemplate. [I’m puzzled… I would think that a long lexia would slow the reader down. I wonder how the use of bold keywords and bulleted lists would affect the reader’s experience of a literary hypertext.]

Next example — A Bottle of Beer — a sample in Hypertextopia. Ended with a quote from Steve, emphasizing the value of even an incomplete sampling of a hypertext space. To “finish” a hypertext (as a reader) is less important than the value of contemplating the nodes one encounters.

In a question, Mark referred to “killing your children”  and a “defense of hoop-de-doodle.”  “How do you decide what to cut and what to move to the margins?”

Susan noted that editing with each writing space means it’s easier to trim the nodes.

Chris: 100 identical people each take different paths through a text, creating 100 different paths.  To what degree, if you were to estimate the quality of the experience, would there be a few that are really great, some that are horrible, or would they be pretty much the same quality?

[Susan noted that she liked the slide presentation tool Keynote, a couple of times referred to “angry people” who followed a particular path through the text… ]

Marc from USC — notes that Susan seems to value her work when the ideal reader meets the ideal story… value comes from sympathy between the experiences.  Do we always have to write stories that look more like the new novel, and less like the discursive novel — Robinson Crusoe, Moll Flanders.

How to get away from the concern about ensuring the reader get the “right” or “full” story?

Steve — notes that we have not yet fully explored the aesthetic of linking.  “It may be that every path in a hypertext is the only way to read it.  Not the right way, or the wrong way.”

Juan: If we have a message, the narrative piece created by the author, can be acquired by the reader… how closely does the reader’s final perception of the work match the intention of the author?  [Juan’s point was about information, but the establishment of the author’s intention is subjective, and the value of a work fluctuates in culture, just as the author’s intention fluctuates over the life of the author, and our understanding of that intention fluctuates based on what kind of access we have to the author’s notes, letters, etc.]

Mark notes that craft is important — a work that’s not communicating its message might have a technical imperfection.