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New Media

Don’t turn to the end

Can hypermedia prevent the reader – in whatever form – from committing that most unholy of offenses and flicking to the end of the book?

Not a thought that occurs to me very often, but today, for a variety of reasons, I’m pondering it. There are a number of things that are, or can be, significantly ‘different’ about the reading experience in new media (I’m trying to organise some thoughts for the session at the Watershed on the 27th). Among these, as I’ve indicated in the past, is the nature of new media to present a reading format that privileges the ‘journey completed’ rather than the one to come. From chapter 11:

The extension of Bob Hughes’ suggestion that experiencing interactive narrative presents “the duration of the present moment” is a shifting of the usual perspective of journey from one that lies in front of us (the number of pages to be read, the duration of a TV show or film) to one that becomes clear, as Sontag suggests for the novel, only after we have completed the route.

By which I mean that the narrative journey is only seen as such once the reading experience is complete. Easy enough, although it’s something that has escaped a number of critics and writers in the medium over the last few years. As a writer, you have to shift your perspective, and as a reader, that perspective is kept ‘at bay’ to a certain extent, until the story is done. That’s a simple proposition, but it’s also one that alters the possibilities of reading in a number of subtle ways. Among which, of course is that there’s no ‘last page’ to cheat with.

And, further. Does this mean we (as authors) can play with the notion of the ‘end’ of a book being the actual (as in literal) end of the narrative…?

On that note, I thought I’d share the ‘rules’ I was starting to lay out for writing ‘of Clockwork Men‘ when I last looked at it (end of January, if anyone’s interested):

Rule 1. Do it the way I want to do it.
Rule 2. There are patterns in everything.
Rule 3. Reading the book ends the story.
Rule 4. The rest of the rules can go hang themselves.

And this morning I’ve got my phone to sync with my iMac without paying $4 for a plugin. I am happy. Even of I’ve not managed to get this template to look quite right yet (I was thoroughly sick of the bright green background though).


3 comments for “Don’t turn to the end”

  1. While you’re on the subject of narratives and endings try to drop in something about the end of the final episode of The Sopranos…

    Posted by mongo | March 17, 2008, 6:08 pm
  2. Which is interesting, because even though I’ve never seen The Sopranos, I’m less inclined to watch it now given the publicity the final episode got. I know how it ends, and that’s spoiled the finish. Even though as it does, from what I can gather, firmly close the series, while leaving the audience guessing as to the final fate of Tony et al, and as such it defies the ‘closed ending’ favoured of so many US shows. On that note, what’s the end of the Wire shaping up like?

    Twin Peaks, though, now there’s an ending that’s worth some discussion…

    Posted by tom | March 17, 2008, 6:31 pm
  3. The end of the Wire’s last season, which has just been broadcast, was typically brilliant. More conventional an ending than The Sopranos but the whole point of The Wire is that very little is cut and dried. Politicians chase ever higher office, dead drug dealers are replaced by a new generation and the people at the top rarely get their comeuppance. Ultimately, the core problems remain and the suggestion – running through every series – is that they always will.

    That sort of perpetual status quo means the series doesn’t really ever “end” as such, even if many story threads are necessarily tied up by the end of the final episode. Some characters die, some escape the life but mostly, things remain the same.

    It’s still AWESOME. Best thing EVER.

    Posted by mongo | March 17, 2008, 8:30 pm

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