Creative Hyperlinks: Writerly and readerly effects of links in hypertext fiction

MIX Digital Conference
Bath Spa University
9-12 July 2017

Click image for PDF of presentation.

Published as chapter in conference-related collection: Bom, Isabelle van der, R. Lyle Skains, Alice Bell, and Astrid Ensslin. 2021. “Reading Hyperlinks in Hypertext Fiction: An Empirical Approach.” In Style and Reader Response: Minds, Media, Methods, edited by Alice Bell, Sam Browse, Alison Gibbons, and David Peplow, 123–41. John Benjamins Publishing Co.


Reader response studies propose that digital fiction readers employ specific cognitive strategies to parse fictional narratives from nonlinear sequences presented in ergodic narratives such as hypertext; few empirical studies, however, have been conducted. Likewise, composition scholars continue to have “little disciplinary understanding of how writers write…within technologically-mediated literate practices” (Takayoshi 2015, p.2). This presentation presents results from a study designed to examine the types and effects of hyperlinks used in hypertext fiction. While most hyperlinks that appear on the web and in electronic documents are semantic, in that they usually indicate to the reader their purpose and directionality, many hypertext authors employ non-semantic links. These have been categorized in various ways, from their effects on the reader, to their mechanisms as narrative structures. The purpose of this study was two-fold: to conduct practice-based research on how a digital writer may employ these varying types of links in fictional narratives; and to conduct an empirical investigation into the cognitive effects of hyperlinks in digital fiction on the reader. In order to explore these topics, Skains (a practicing digital writer) created a purpose-built hypertext fiction incorporating all categories of hyperlink identified for digital fictions, exploring the practice and use of links from a writerly perspective. This hypertext (The Futographer) was then used as the basis for empirical observations of readers’ experience and strategies in reading hypertexts. This presentation focuses on the practice-based insights, but will also discuss initial conclusions gained from the reader response study. The context of this study is our AHRC-funded “Reading Digital Fiction” project (2014-17) (Ref: AH/K004174/1), which aims to develop new empirical literary methods to examine reader engagement and interaction with digital fictions, to produce new readings of digital fictions against a cognitive narratological backdrop, and to open digital fiction to broader readership through various public events in England and Wales.

Cite as: Skains, R. Lyle. 2017. “Creative Hyperlinks: Writerly and Readerly Effects of Links in Hypertext Fiction.” In MIX Digital. Bath Spa University.

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