Our minds on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.


Well, Banapana has been a little slow in its transition to WordPress 2.1 and the posts aren’t coming as hard and fast these days and I apologize for that. It’s primarily because of another blogging project that has really grabbed my attention: Troped. As a writer I enjoy writing both nonfiction and fiction (and a lot of times I like to mix them up!) Until Troped I really hadn’t figured out a way to get my fiction online that wasn’t too boring for me to bother. I mean I really can’t see the point in just putting 15 page short stories up online. The linear format is all wrong for the medium.

Troped happens very differently. I’ve used WordPress and SH-autolink to create a kind of shorthand metaphor that is slowly but surely creating a layered kind of fiction on the site. As story posts develop, their titles become links back to themselves elsewhere in the site. So I might have an entry called “The Tree the Owns Itself” and then later on write about a character that “stood as straight as the tree that owns itself.” That new reference becomes a link to the old piece of fiction and a metaphorical link is born. Now that’s something you can’t do with a book.

Narratives have been messing with point-of-view and chronology and structure for a long time. And for a while all I could really think to do with my hyperficiton was that. You can link from one time period in the story from another or from one character to another. But honestly, while it’s more interactive than paper when the fiction is on the web, you could always accomplish this technique on paper. Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying moves the novel’s from character to character, Joyce’s The Dubliner’s messes with chronological order, Cortazar’s Hopscotch foreshadows the hyperlink with the way it has the reader flipping from chapter to chapter, and Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow references more information than Wikipedia probably. And those are just the examples I can name of the top off my head. In short, even though popular authors have been limited to the medium of paper for the last few hundred years, they’ve done most everything you can with it. The web, in my mind, begs for a brand new kind of writing, not just ample use of hyperlinks.

It reminds me of a conversation I had with an editor at the Economist. I told him that they should consider foregoing normal navigation on their site. Every news story opens with a statement made up of who, what, where, when and how. I said just make every story that statement and make every element of the statement a link. The article then unfolds details as the user explores the facets that interest them. Using their encyclopedic amounts of information, every current event, leader, country should just show up as a link. Now that I think about it I was really telling them to just go out and create wikipedia. But he pointed out that something like that would require them to re-train all their writers. He was right but with new wiki tools available, I think they could still make that boat. The Economist could still be run like a Wiki with access limited only to the writers and editors.

That’s something major that’s changed, too, I should point out. The fact is, this hyperfiction site I’m working on has come about not only because I’m willing to write in a new way, but because WordPress and plug-ins like SH-autolink have made it so easy for me. And I’m a programmer. The tools need to be easy enough for a writer that’s not a programmer to use. I think then we’ll see a major shift in the way that writers are writing online.

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