Links are navigational tools that readers click to go from an originating node to a destination node (sometimes links can go to specific portions of a destination node--anchor links in HTML work this way). Links can be from text, an image, a moving field, or a navigation structure (such as a menu).Links can visible in the text (e.g., simple underlining in HTML or different hues or fonts in Flash distinguish links from non-linked elements) or they can be invisible (e.g., the linked element does not look any different than the non-linked element).
Links do more than simply move the reader from one node to the next however. A linked word takes on more prominence within the entire piece as it leaps off the node and into the navigational functions of the node. The linked element stands out from the rest of the text. If the link is visible, then this readers see this emphasis as more than mere bolding or other font emphasis as it creates a meaning. The linked element is now a gateway to another node--the fact that it is a link in itself makes the link more important than the non-linked elements--even if the reader does not follow that link. If the link is invisible, then the link stands out when the reader has discovered its hidden attribute.
Links also provide a commentary on their destination. Readers assume that the link signifies a connection between the originating and destination node, and that the author's choice to make that particular element a link and not another word has some relevance to the connection. A mark of quality writing is how "intuitive" or right these links feel.
Links can signify a variety of relationships, including:
link goes to a node that provides either the site or text itself (such as a link to Google) or a definition or clarification of the linked word or phrase. This is a common type of link in encyclopedias, newspapers, etc. Chris Klimas' Ode to Pants contains the line "I have no memory of that final yes." The link goes to a quote from Wallace Stevens. "After the final no there comes a yes / And on that yes the future world depends."
Connotative: The link between the origin text and destination text implies something that is not explicitly stated--the originating node gives a new context to the destination node that can suggest some other meanings are lurking under the surface.
Similar or repetitive: The link goes to a similar node or a continuation of the same theme as the originating text. The link from Caitlin Fisher's These Waves of Girls "I'd write about how I don't understand my companion's preoccupation with authentic roadside diners..." goes to "The desire to write is the desire to fool you, seduce you. Here I am – again ..." This continues the idea of writing and the idea of a companion. The first instance of "write" on this node ("I wish I could write you a road trip") is not linked, yet the second is. What would have happened to the meaning if Fisher had put the link on the first instance of "write"? What if the link were on "flushed"? or on "gentle violence"?
Opposition or contradiction: The link goes to a node that contradicts or opposes the originating text.
Descriptive: The link goes to a further description or explanation of the linked word or originating text.
Advertisements: The link goes to a site that sells that particular item. While this is a common type of link in commercial web sites (as many sites receive their funding from these links by counting hits and click throughs), this has been used in electronic literature. The link from Deena Larsen's Disappearing Rain: "How many credit cards are in it?" goes to a credit card site. (These outside links are thus commented on within the story and subvert these commercial endeavors into playing a role in tracking down Anna, a missing character from the novel).
Political: The piece hopes to provoke a reaction in the reader and provides a link to follow up on that reaction.
For example, Jennifer Ley'sWar Games shows the horrors of land mines and connects to Adopt a Minefield.
Links can be marked in a variety of ways. Each way of marking links influences how the links will be seen and how much emphasis the reader will place on these links.
Stephanie Strickland's Ballad of Sand and Harry Soot uses invisible text links (fanatic is a link on the first node). These links provide the reader an aha! moment of discovering secret treasures. (Strickland also uses text coloration where there are no links and sometimes when there are links. How do these different emphases color the words and the meaning?)
Tim Lockridge's A Sky of Cinders uses a lighter ash gray color for his links. The difference between text and link becomes subtle, but is definitely there.
Marking visited links and unvisited links is automatic in HTML web browsers. But many authors prefer not to have links marked as visited, so that readers can see the words again in a different context.
Create an electronic work where the origin node links to the destination node. Choose any of the origin nodes and link them to any of the destination nodes. You can even build paths through these nodes with your links.
Consider precisely what you will link to. Most electronic literature tools allow links only to a major node or a major portion of that node (such as anchor links on a node). Storyspace allows links to any part of any node (such as a phrase), but it is sometimes difficult to determine the precise word that the link is going to. Nonetheless, consider the precise word that you will link to. This thought process creates good thought patterns as you consider exactly what your link will communicate to your readers.
Consider how you will mark your links. How much will they stand out? Will they be visible or invisible? Will readers see marked or unmarked links after they have visited that destination node? Why--what will this add to your meaning?
Our peace proclaimed by the piercing of a bat's cry.
Our home has not known peace in a hundred millenia. Our religions exhort us to love one another. But we cannot see this love in each other's prayers, for all our prayers are invisible, like currents under a still pond.
Our peace shattered by the piercing of a bat's cry.
I walk in peace as my God exhorts me to. I carry love for all, for all are human, all are precious forms of life who think, create, sleep, love, and wonder at the perfect beauty of a sparrow. As I walk, I join others, and our peace is known.
Peace: Noun. The absence of war, conflict, hatred, and midnight raids leading to years of absence. The presence of understanding, tolerance, communication, and a child being answered by a mother.
We are in the market buying today's fresh-caught halibut for John's birthday. Little Joey keeps pace with me, his legs rushing fast, shouting that John would like a kite for his birthday or a new teddy bear. "Your daddy does not want a new teddy bear," I tell him. "Your daddy wants fresh fish with lemon." Joey makes a face--ewww, just as the car bomb goes off. Everything turns black.
Here are some examples of types of links that you can create in this exercise and my rationale for making them.
Denotative: Link "peace" in Origin 2 to "Peace" in Destination C. Expanding on the definition of peace allows the abstract to become more concrete, as this definition provides a transition from abstract meanings to concrete images (midnight raids, a child answered by a mother).
Connotative: Link "turns black" in Origin 4 to "shattered" in Destination B. With this link, the piercing of a bat's cry becomes equivalent to the car bomb, adding another image to the scene.
Similar or repetitive: Link "is known" in Origin 3 to "proclaimed" in Destination A. This carries on the mantra of proclaiming peace, of spreading the willingness to understand another culture, another way of life. This understanding is echoed by linking a sparrow with a bat--seeing the similarities in the creatures rather than focusing on the differences.
Opposition or contradiction: Link entire image in Origin 1 to "bat's cry" in Destination A. As the girl's tears continue to flow while peace is proclaimed, readers sense a difficulty in the peace and this undermines the hope in the destination node--is it a phyrric victory where too much has been shattered to be comforted by peace or is the peace an illusion--as inaudible as the bat's cry? Or link the right eye in Origin 1 to "piercing" in Destination A and the left eye to "piercing" in Destination B. This sets up a contradictory path--following one path will provide readers with one meaning and the other path with the opposing meaning.
Descriptive: Link "still pond" in Origin 1 to the image in Destination D. The still pond then becomes concrete as the reader sees the water. Further, the steam coming from the water is reminiscent of the prayers under the water--so the description goes both to and from the origin and destination nodes.
Political: Link "exhort us" in Origin 2 to the URL in Destination E. This provides an added connotation--that the religious leaders exhort us to work for peace as well as love. It also gives the reader a way to work towards a world of better understanding and tolerance for other points of view.
Experiment: On Your Own
Here are some ways to play with linking:
Write about something in your life--an event, a puzzle that has been bothering you, an emotional time, a person, etc. for 10 minutes on paper.
Highight 4 words in this main piece (using a different color for each highight makes this more distinctive)
Write each of the highlighted words on a separate piece of paper. (If you use colors, you could edge each piece of paper in the same color as the highlighted word. Find some way to make these distinct papers).
Put content on each of these papers. Either find an image that you can associate with the word (and its context in your original writing) or write about that word. This could be a related story, an expanded definition, a clarification, a commentary, etc.
Get 4 thin strips of paper, and on each one, write the relationship between your original writing and the expanded content. What links these two pieces of content together?
Arrange your main papers on a posterboard. Maybe some are farther apart in meaning or closer together--what "fits right" to you?
Put the thin strips of paper between your original writing and the expanded content.
Are there any other links between your papers? If so, add them by writing the relationship on a thin piece of paper and connecting those papers.
Write on paper for 10 minutes on something specific that the group chooses (a banana, an image, a story, a philosophical discussion, a reaction to a political commentary, a math exercise, etc).
Write a response to this paper on a new sheet of paper.
Put the original item that the group wrote on in the center of a poster board. (Sticky putty works best to attach a banana to a posterboard.) Then arrange your papers on the board. Discuss where they "go" --what has a spatial relationship to what. Maybe two pieces are opposite, so they go on opposite sides of the posterboard. Maybe two pieces are connected and they go on top of each other, maybe you need to tear a paper apart or copy it to use in two different places...use your imagination.
Discuss types of connections are between these papersand use threads, etc to symbolize these connections.
Build a story using these connections. You can add or subtract content by taking away or adding pages.
Exchange: Share Your Creations
Share your work in person
Take a few readers on a personal tour of your posterboard. Ask them how they feel pieces are connected--and what new insights they glean when they compare the texts.
Get a bigger audience for a group reading (Exhibit your work at a local poetry slam, an art festival, an open mike. Or create an "elit fair" to compete with your local science fair and have everyone show off their pieces). Read each piece and explain where readers could go next. Have the audience choose which link to follow next.
Share your work online
Create a video of your work and explain the links and connections and how they change meaning.
Take a picture
Render your creation to be read on a computer (use any tool you can).
We'd love to show your work--either send it or send a URL for your work here to be a part of this site.