Hyperlinks in e-books : expanding the functionality of end-notes

  • Giulio Zambon

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


With its powerful search engines and billions of published pages, the Worldwide Web has become the ultimate tool to explore the human experience. But, despite the advent of the digital revolution, e-books, at their core, have remained remarkably similar to their printed siblings. This has resulted in a clear dichotomy between two ways of reading: on one side, the multi-dimensional world of the Web; on the other, the linearity of books and e-books. My investigation of the literature indicates that the focus of attempts to merge these two modes of production, and hence of reading, has been the insertion of interactivity into fiction. As I will show in the Literature Review, a clear thrust of research since the early 1990s,and in my opinion the most significant, has concentrated on presenting the reader with choices that affect the plot. This has resulted in interactive stories in which the structure of the narrative can be altered by the reader of experimental fiction. The interest in this area of research is not surprising, as the interaction of readers with the fabric of the narrative provides a fertile ground for exploring, analysing, and discussing issues of plot consistency and continuity. I found in the literature several papers concerned with the effects of hyperlinking on literature, but none about how hyperlinked material and narrative could be integrated without compromising the narrative flow as designed by the author. It led me to think that the researchers had accepted hypertextuality and the linear organisation of fiction as being antithetical, thereby ignoring the possibility of exploiting the first while preserving the second. All the works I consulted were focussed on exploring the possibilities provided to authors (and readers) by hypertext or how hypertext literature affects literary criticism. This was true in earlier works by Landow and Harpold and remained true in later works by Bolter and Grusin. To quote another example, in his book Hypertext 3.0,Landow states: “Most who have speculated on the relation between hypertextuality and fiction concentrate [...] on the effects it will have on linear narrative”, and “hypertext opens major questions about story and plot by apparently doing away with linear organization” (Landow,2006,pp. 220,221). In other words, the authors have added narrative elements to Web pages, effectively placing their stories in a subordinate role. By focussing on “opening up” the plots, the researchers have missed the opportunity to maintain the integrity of their stories and use hyperlinked information to provide interactive access to backstory and factual bases. This would represent a missing link between the traditional way of reading, in which the readers have no influence on the path the author has laid out for them, and interactive narrative, in which the readers choose their way across alternatives, thereby, at least to a certain extent, creating their own path. It would be, to continue the metaphor, as if the readers could follow the main path created by the author while being able to get “sidetracked” into exploring hyperlinked material. In Hypertext 3.0,Landow refers to an “Axial structure [of hypertext] characteristic of electronic books and scholarly books with foot-and endnotes” versus a “Network structure of hypertext” (Landow,2006,p. 70). My research aims at generalising the axial structure and extending it to fiction without losing the linearity at its core. In creative nonfiction, the introduction of places, scenes, and settings, together with characterisation, brings to life the facts without altering them; while much fiction draws on facts to provide a foundation, or narrative elements, for the work. But how can the reader distinguish between facts and representations? For example, to what extent do dialogues and perceptions present what was actually said and thought? Some authors of creative nonfiction use end-notes to provide comments and citations while minimising disruption the flow of the main text, but they are limited in scope and constrained in space. Each reader should be able to enjoy the narrative as if it were a novel but also to explore the facts at the level of detail s/he needs. For this to be possible, end-notes should provide a Web-like way of exploring in more detail what the author has already researched. My research aims to develop ways of integrating narrative prose and hyperlinked documents into a Hyperbook. Its goal is to create a new writing paradigm in which a story incorporates a gateway to detailed information. While creative nonfiction uses the techniques of fictional writing to provide reportage of actual events and fact-based fiction illuminates the affectual dimensions of what happened (e.g., Kate Grenville’s The Secret River and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall),Hyperbooks go one step further and link narrative prose to the details of the events on which the narrative is based or, more in general, to information the reader might find of interest. My dissertation introduces and utilises Hyperbooks to engage in two parallel types of investigation Build knowledge about Italian WWII POWs held in Australia and present it as part of a novella in Hyperbook format. Develop a new piece of technology capable of extending the writing and reading process.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Canberra
SupervisorJen Webb (Supervisor), Greg Battye (Supervisor) & Sharma D (Supervisor)

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