What are cyberlit's advantages?

Linkage, Interactivity/Non-Linear Narrative

The linkage dynamic that hypertext gives to cyberspace is, of course, its definitive literary advantage. As critic Carrie McMillan put it, "Those who sing the praises of hypertext fiction/electronic poetry and prose, whatever you may wish to call it often cite above all the possibilities it offers the writer for non-linear narratives, a break away from traditional story structures into a new realm..."

Traditional linear narrative found in the time-honored book format may hold the reader's attention over all other structures, but for the computer screen, the hypertextual format offers a much more natural and appealing way for a reader to read a story, any story, since it avoids tedious text-scrolling. It also gives far more latitude to the writer. Beginnings, endings and chronological order are not the inevitabilities they are in book format, flashbacks and parallel storylines are more natural, and even backward and sideways movement is possible.

Also, hypertextual writing mimics the way our minds work, presenting choices and ideas with every click. Cybernarratives can become a multi-layered world of non-chronological events, as McMillan points out, such as the interactive game-like computer narrative fiction, Dark Lethe, where readers contribute their own writing to the make-believe world. Or the cyberwork can be a "literary introspective meandering with a stream of consciousness feel, often about the act of writing itself, as seen in a work such as Water Always Writes in Plural."

But perhaps its best advantage is that is more like real life: "Linear narratives are poor at showing the kind of existence where people just muddle along from one situation to another, without getting anywhere in particular or learning any valuable lessons," explains Edward Picot. "They perpetuate a myth of personal progress—the idea that life is leading us somewhere, even if it's to tragedy. And because they oblige their writers to simplify the stories they tell for the sake of forward momentum, they also perpetuate a myth of reality."

Hypertextual writing also forces us to be more poetic in our understanding of the form itself. "With hypertext we focus, both as writers and as readers, on structure as much as on prose," Robert Coover points out, "for we are made aware suddenly of the shapes of narratives that are often hidden in print stories...We are always astonished to discover how much of the reading and writing experience occurs in the interstices and trajectories between text fragments. The text fragments are like stepping stones, there for our safety, but the real current of the narratives runs between them."

Cyberspace's writerly advantages, though, go much farther than its creative hyperlink potential.


A web-published piece unlike a print piece is always and forever revisable. A cyberpoem or cyberfiction is finished at its "published" point, allowing it to do all the things that a published print piece should—stand on its own, be of its time period, and ultimately stand the test of time. But the unequivocal finality of a print author's creation is not necessarily true for the cybercreator. Just because it has been "published" to the web, doesn't mean it's forever final. Being "published" takes on a acutely different meaning in the creative universe that is cyberspace.

Case in point: "Headed South," a memoir project was published in Kairos in 1998. In a print journal, whatever version of a piece is published in a 1998 print journal edition would be the one forever in that edition. But online, links change all that. First, the "piece" of an e-literary magazine is often not physically at the e-journal's location (server). It has linked, naturally enough, to the piece wherever it resides, and therefore sends the reader "there." So, a researcher stumbling upon the 1998 Kairos edition's publication of Headed South, might see a 1998-1999 copyright but find a work updated in 2003. Its author can continue to update her website, presentation, even her memoir, and yet it will can continue to be linked to the original edition where it first saw "print."

That may seem highly unusual for a creative piece, yet its an obvious advantage for the cyberwriter (or a temptation for the obsessive/compulsive one). Unless an effort is made to duplicate the original, no other version but the present one exists—the version online is always the eternal original.