What Writers Can Learn From ‘Goodnight Moon’

How wonderful that this oddly compassionate moment, where even nobody gets a good night, shows up in the picture book that is the most popular! There is no template, ever. When writing, how do we allow those moments of impulse, of surprise? How do we not censor that kind of leap? (I’d argue for following tangents — for not feeling bound to the topic at hand.) And when to end a story or poem or novel or essay? It’s one of the most common questions at readings: “How do you know when it’s done?”

.. The reader has time to linger with that end and accept it — it’s not the obvious closing note of the music, it’s not the fully resolved major chord. But she trusted it. How something ends is so much about a writer training her own instinct and her own sense of that note.

Memory Machines: The Evolution of Hypertext (Anthem Scholarship in the Digital Age)

This book explores the history of hypertext, an influential concept that forms the underlying structure of the World Wide Web and innumerable software applications. Barnet tells both the human and the technological story by weaving together contemporary literature and her exclusive interviews with those at the forefront of hypertext innovation, tracing its evolutionary roots back to the analogue machine imagined by Vannevar Bush in 1945.

.. ‘Belinda Barnet has given the world a fine-grain, blow-by-blow report of how hypertext happened, how we blundered to the World Wide Web, and what other things electronic literature might still become.’ —Ted Nelson, hypertext pioneer


MetaFilter: What happened to hypertext fiction?

Am I the only one who is sad that hypertext isn’t much more than plain old webpages that are fairly static (DHTML notwithstanding)?

Again, look at any reasonably sophisticated videogame like Deus Ex or Fallout or GTA IV. The people who imagined hypertext novels were thinking too small. Artists can create entire worlds now to explore along a nearly infinite number of degrees of freedom. Why limit yourself to one dimensional text with a few branches?

.. Has anyone actually tried to read any of the early hypertext stories? Good lord, what a frustrating experience. It truly was an experiment in just how far down the rabbit hole you can go before you become utterly confused and have lost any grasp on the thread you thought you were following. My mother has Alzheimer’s and a hypertext story must surely be what her day is like, as you jump from one focus to another and forget where you were two pages back.

.. Whoa. I take that back. A couple of the entries totally fall under the hypertext banner and they are amazing. Check out The Play and The Binary.

.. I thought this was perceptive and could also be applied to contrasting hypertext with IF. Hypertext fiction is stateless: no past, no future, only the current page. This makes it a fundamentally different experience, not just vs. novels, but also vs. (most) interactive fiction. In novels, there’s a clear beginning and end; likewise, in most interactive fiction, some of your actions will affect the world of the story, so you can also divide things mentally into cause and effect, past and future. Hypertext doesn’t have that anchor.

Why the book’s future never happened

This is not a flaw in the medium, though; it’s a failure of craft. With two exceptions (Shelley Jackson and Geoff Ryman, whose hypertexts “Patchwork Girl” and “253,” respectively, may be the first classics of the genre, both for the quality of their prose and because they found ways to make their fragmentary forms feel purposeful), the early hypertextualists just weren’t good enough writers to carry off such a difficult form.

.. At the same time, it’s impossibly hard to create, one of the only modes of fiction I know of which is more demanding than the novel. (And then add to that the need to create a user interface, and maybe a content-management system, and is it going to be an app? 

Suddenly your antidepressants aren’t nearly strong enough to get you out of bed.)


Why No One Clicked on the Great Hypertext Story

It’s not that hypertext went on to become less interesting than its literary advocates imagined in those early days. Rather, a whole different set of new forms arose in its place: blogs, social networks, crowd-edited encyclopedias. Readers did end up exploring an idea or news event by following links between small blocks of text; it’s just that the blocks of text turned out to be written by different authors, publishing on different sites.

.. Hypertext turned out to be a brilliant medium for bundling a collection of linear stories or arguments written by different people.

.. Each reading of the story could follow a different combination of nodes; “closure,” in this new form, was as obsolete as the printed page. “When the story no longer progresses, or when it cycles, or when you tire of the paths,” Joyce wrote in the introduction, “the experience of reading it ends.”

.. Multiple print tomes appeared evangelizing hypertext storytelling, and a few even warned of the threat it posed to traditional narrative. The literary/philosophical world had been musing about the death of the author and fragmented, reader-centric text since the late 1960s, but suddenly all those abstract ideas were grounded in technological reality.

.. That future never happened. It turned out that nonlinear reading spaces had a problem: They were incredibly difficult to write.

Xanadu: Browser Demo Released!

At a Chapman University Event, Ted Nelson announced the release of Xanadu:


Now before you click on the “Read More” link:

  1. Realize that it loads slowly.  Just wait.  It’s just a demo so the performance hasn’t been optimized.
  2. The user interface isn’t always intuitive (it uses keyboard shortcuts)


  • The main content is visible in the middle and the related content is displayed in parallel on the side
  • The connections between the different sources are displayed with colored lines between the documents
  • To see the related source, click on it with your mouse.  To get back to the prior source, click on it.

About the document:

  • The document, written by Moe Justes, is a compilation of different sources.
  • I haven’t read all the content; but though Ted Nelson has said he himself is an atheist, Juste’s method of intertextually invoking other sources is actually quite biblical.
  • At this point, it probably isn’t easy to duplicate something like this with your own content, but I wonder how biblical criticism could benefit from this form of parallel writing.