What is Hypertext?

Image of book

Hypertext Fiction: Interactive Learning Adventures In Education

By: Deborah Kozdras demikoz@aol.com

Image of interactive computer disc.
This website was designed to teach about the educational implications of hypertext fiction in education. On this site, you can explore current research in the area of hypertext and education. In addition, you can try out a sample of hypertext fiction created based on research by Hayes-Roth (1998). Wonderland Research was created to illustrate the essential principles of interactive e-fiction. I will refer to specific examples in this story throughout the site. Enjoy!


Hypertext Theory
Forms of Hypertext Fiction
Hypertext vs Traditional
What is Hypertext

Hypertext fiction is found mostly online and in the form of CD Roms. This genre is characterized by non-linearity and reader interaction. The reader typically chooses links to move from one node of text to the next; thereby co-designing a story. Hypertext fiction has been compared to Choose Your Own Adventure books, a series of children's books. These stories are written from a second person point-of-view, where the reader becomes the main character. In the choose your own adventures--like many hypertext fictions--after a short plot introduction, the reader is given choices as co-director of the story.

  • Theodor H. Nelson, a computer visionary and activist first referred to a form of electronic text as hypertext, noting:“ by hypertext, I mean non-sequential writing—text that branches and allows choices to the reader, best read at an interactive screen. As popularly conceived, this is a series of text chunks connected by links, which offer the reader different pathways.”
  • The first hypertext fictions were published prior to the development of the World Wide Web, using software such as Storyspace and Hypercard. Michael Joyce's Afternoon, a story (1991) is considered the first hypertext fiction.
  • Illana Snyder (1997, p.6) described Afternoon as: "An intricate web of narratives, places, paths and 'yields', that is, words and phrases whose evocative resonances readers can pursue by using a mouse to highlight them on the computer screen. Afternoon is a fiction that changes every time it is read. It invites the reader to circulate digressively among a matrix of characters and events that are never quite what they seem on first presentation.
  • Wardrip-Fruin and Harrigan (2004) described hypertext as story, performance and game.”
  • Murray (1997) in Hamlet on the Holodeck, described digital storytelling as "cyberdrama."
  • This site contains a Webquest about hyperfiction .

For more info on hypertext, visit:

What is hypertext or hypermedia?

Cambridge Dictionary definition of hyperfiction.

Image of laptop I created an Information Kiosk on current research in hypertext fiction and writing. This presentation also includes a section on Educational Implications. In order to begin the slide show, click on "Slide Show" in the bottom right corner.



Children living in a digital world have many new opportunities for learning and reading, most of which haven’t been adequately researched for literacy and learning potential.

  • New forms of digital reading have emerged, such as interactive fiction (also known as e-literature, hypertext fiction or hyperfiction) which provide engaging and empowering literacy opportunities for children.
  • New literacies change as technology opens up new doors for information and communication. As more students use these technoliteracies, the ways in which we read and write are transformed; impacting classroom instruction.
  • Electronic texts provide many supports and challenges for the educational community. Coiro (2003) stated, "the Internet, in particular, provides new formats, new purposes for reading, and new ways to interact with information that can confuse and overwhelm people taught to extract meaning from only conventional print."
Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, & Cammack (2004) described New Literacies as multiple in nature at three levels:
  • Meaning is represented with multiple media forms.
  • The Internet and other ICT's offer multiple tools to construct many forms of communication.
  • Students create "new literacies" and require "new literacies" skills as they encounter information from multiple social and cultural contexts around the world.
Is Hypertext a New Literacy or more like narrative storytelling, an Old Literacy?
  • Does Hypertext resemble Pre-Guttenberg printing press forms of storytelling and scribing?
  • The earliest forms of interactive stories and entertainment were myths. Storytellers didn't just recite; the entire community would re-enact in the form of rituals (Campbell, 1949).
  • Hypertext stories are developed based on choices and storytelling changes in sequence. Miller (2004) likens digital storytelling to pre-printing press stories.
Hypertext Theory

Hypertext Theory is based on Postmodern Instructional Design Theory.

Landow (2006) noted a paradigm shift in terms of hypertext and literary theory in terms of Postmodern Instructional Design:

  • He discussed postmodern design theory in terms of Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes (literary and cultural theory) and Theodor Nelson and Andries van Dam (computer theory).
  • Landow said that we must, "abandon conceptual systems founded on ideas of center, margin, hierarchy, and linearity and replace them by ones of multilinearity, nodes, links and networks. Almost all parties [notably the four mentioned above] to this paradigm shift, which marks a revolution in human thought, see electronic writing as a direct response to the strengths and weaknesses of the printed book, one of the major landmarks in the history of human thought.”
  • Hypertext has no beginning or ending, no center or margin, etc. When electronic text is linked or when one node is copy-pasted into another or if texts are semantically linked for a specific purpose, the notion of hierarchy of importance evaporates. Reading begins somewhere and the wreaders construct their own sequence and sometimes even endings.
Image of movie camera.

I created a short "photo montage" of clips from the Wonderland Research website in order to illustrate some of the postmodern instructional design concepts inherent in hypertext fiction. These concepts include: discontinuity, randomness, multiple options, multiple impressions, open conversations, choices, never-ending, deconstruct, and reconstruct.

File size warning: photo montage is a large file: 3.8 MB.

Forms of Hypertext Fiction

Unsworth (2005) described the following three categories of computer-based literary narratives: electronically augmented texts, electronically re-conceptualized texts, and digitally originated texts.

  • The category of electronically augmented texts includes literature that has been published in book format but the books are enhanced with online resources. Some examples include: the Professor Garfield site (which provides educational experiences for students based on Garfield comics) and Fractured Fairy and Folk Tales by Scholastic (which offers online activities based on favorite stories).
  • Electronically reconceptualized texts include the republication of works that are now out of copyright. Some free examples can be found on the Gutenberg Project , the International Children's Digital Library , the Internet archive , among others. In addition, some sites, like Storyline Online, feature children's books read aloud by actors. Others, like Clifford's Interactive Storybooks feature a familiar story character (Clifford the Big Red Dog) in an interactive tale, where children make text choices and play story-related games. These texts provide a wide range of hypertext situations.

The remaining categories would be conceptualized as digitally originated texts:

  • Linear E-narratives: these books are presented like stories found in books:and Dreambox/storybox
  • E-stories for early readers: These sites use audio and hyperlinks to help young children decode print and pronounce words: Children's Storybooks Online , Learning to Read at Starfall , and Tumblebooks. For the mostpart, these books don't use hypertext except for turning pages and clicking on links.
  • E-narratives and interactive story concepts: These books are similar to linear e-narratives but have links to factual information and other stories. One example is the. science stories for kids by NASA in which children can access other information about the story topics.
  • Hypertext narratives: These "pick a path"stories focus on text for hyperlinks--to the exclusion of most images. Word Circuits is suitable for children and early adolescents. The Brain of Katharine Mansfield is suitable for an older crowd.
  • Hypermedia narratives: These stories use hyperlinks for text and images. The Vasalisa Project reshapes the Russian fairy tale Vasalisa and the Baba Yaga, building a bridge between traditional and new media. Lasting Image uses interactivity through a range of different hyperlinks. In addition, our own Wonderland Research employs a wide variety of text and images as hyperlinks.

Some forms of hyperfiction allow the reader to not only add to the story in a linear way but to provide alternative, non linear pathways through the story. These stories allow the wreaders to choose a variety of paths and write their own nodes/continuous narrative.

Some people confuse Interactive Fiction (IF) --original text adventure games--as hypertext. Interactive fiction is described as:

  • Computer-mediated narrative, resembling a very finely-grained "Choose Your Own Adventure" story.
  • The interactor reads a short textual description ("You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building."), and types instructions to the computer ("enter building").
  • The plot can change based on what the interactor types.
  • It has the potential to be more truly interactive than hypertext.

Nick Montfort is one of the gurus of Interactive Fiction. Both a researcher and creator of IF texts, a sample of his work can be accessed at Interactive Fiction by Nick Montfort . In addition, more information on IF can be accessed at this Interactive Fiction site.

Hypertext vs Traditional Text

Researchers have found the following differences between hypertext and traditional text in terms of reading and writing:

  • Bromme & Stahl (2002) discussed the concept of "wreading." When a readers work with hypertext, they must make choices or rearrange the text. Although this isn't quite writing, it goes beyond simple reading completed with traditional texts.
  • Samsel & Wimberly (1998) described design structures for hypertext as "with a spine" and "without a spine." Hypertexts with a spine have a middle line to which they usually return. In spineless hypertexts, a variety of nodes are placed in a file and endless combinations are possible.
  • Schmidt (2005) noted that hypertext structure contained all the traditional elements of story except instead of two turning points you have many decision points.

Kozdras & Haunstetter (2005) used the Wonderland Research site to depict differences in terms of traditional and hypertext. These similarities and differences are depicted in the chart below:

Similarities and Differences: Comparing Hypertexts vs Traditional Narrative Texts
Usually one author
Reader as co-author
In our Alice story, the reader (assuming the role of Alice) makes constant choices that dictate what will happen next. Alice meets either Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum or the Chesire Cat depending on author choice.
Usually linear, following story structure, one thing after another
Postmodern text—most often not a linear plot. Choices and links provide multiple paths.
In the Alice story, there are various decision points in the story, which offer the co-author a different plot path for multiple readings of the story.
Point of View
Often first or third.
Often second  person
In the story "you" are Alice, making choices that affect your ultimate storyline. In addition, we created Alice falling from the perspective of looking down the rabbit hole. This is meant to bring the reader into the image as he or she is also falling. The text for this page reads “Oh Alice!  Now you're falling down a deep hole, spiraling out of control.  You try to grab things along the way, but it's just no use. Will you ever stop falling?”
Usually a conclusion or a sense of closure
Multiple endings. Sometimes “neverending.”
In our Alice and Wonderland story, the reader experienced different parts of the story based upon his or her decisions. All of the characters cannot be met in one story, nor can every part of the story be experienced in one reading. Therefore, the reader may choose to experience the story again and try new and different options. The Alice and Wonderland story ends with Alice waking up, realizing she was daydreaming in class. The last sentence is a hyperlink that reads, “Do you dare to begin again?” If the reader clicks this hyperlink, the story returns to the beginning screen.
Mostly in single place and time, except for time travel, flashbacks and multiple viewpoints.
Multiple settings due to choices to move within text: forward, backward, different storylines.
In a screenshot of the garden, users may design by dragging and placing different elements. This screen can be secretly accessed in the story and is separate from the plot. It is a side attraction that temporarily places the reader into another scene in another place. When the reader is reader, he or she can exit the garden and return to the story. Although this screen is somewhat limited, it serves as a simple example of allowing users to design part of the story according to his or her visual ideas. With screens such as these, students can engage in metalevel thinking, while they make visual meanings.
Hard copy
CD Rom, video game-like, Ebooks, online
We published our Alice story both online and burned it onto a CD for presentations at conferences.
Words and sometimes pictures.
Some have sound and pop-ups
Multiple media can be present, including sound, video, writing tools, and motion.
We employed movement in the form of gifs and Easter Eggs created through the use of javascript. Although we did not include sound, video or writing tools, these options would allow for many interesting educational applications.
Digital: virtual or CD/DVD
This site could easily be accessed through the World Wide Web. In addition, we created a CD copy.
Usually once
Many paths lead to multiple reading
The Alice story could be read many times, in many ways, depending on the choices made at decision points.
Author decides reader’s path through  text
Reader has some autonomy in choosing path through text.
Because Alice is a character-driven story, the character is fully developed and the reader is acting on her behalf, animating the character, projecting his own decision-making onto the choices made by Alice

Reader as Wreader

Readers cannot change the text.
Some stories allow readers to change or add to text.
In Alice in Wonderland, the player enters a story world populated by many characters, permitting many different interactions and experiences. Although in this particular situation, the reader couldn't change or add to text, this component could be added.