*Although books are a fairly static medium, even they can evolve in small ways to accommodate the passage of time. Above, I included two pictures of the cover art for this book to demonstrate how that is possible. While the story remains the same, the cover art has been updated over the years to attract newer generations of readers.
In this story analysis post, I will be focusing primarily on the hypertext fiction article, I link, therefore I am, and the Kurt Vonnegut video on The Shape of Stories. This weeks assignment was probably my favorite we have had so far because there is so much to say about the topic and evolution of storytelling. The story I picked that was important to me is a book called Forever by Judy Blume. I’ve linked a summary to the book in the title, but it really doesn’t do it justice. Although this story may seem like a frivolous young adult novel to some, it is important to me nonetheless because it is relatable and a fairly universal experience that I personally resonate with. Those are important ingredients in getting audiences invested in a story, and it demonstrates the power of storytelling.
First I want to talk about this book in reference to The Shape of Stories video. This story, as is the case with many works of physical literature, has a linear progression. Vonnegut references the familiar linear structures of stories in his presentation, and how those stories are successful even when told over and over again because we as an audience have been conditioned to crave a certain type of resolution. He specifically highlights the fairytale Cinderella, and maps the curve of her story from the down-and-out female protagonist who eventually rises out of strife to end up with her prince charming. What happens though if Cinderella doesn’t get the happy ending we all hoped for? Now Disney knows that this storyline sells, so that won’t happen for Cinderella. However, the reality of the situation is that Cinderella is a fairytale for a reason. While Forever has a linear structure, it doesn’t follow the same path that Cinderella does in regards to the ending. There is a denouement because there has to be, but it isn’t the ending the audience hopes for. It gives them reality. It gives them the experience of shared pain, loss, and heartache. It gives them access to the manifestation of a universal human experience played out on ink and paper. Maybe that’s why fairytales appeal so greatly to us when we are kids, because we don’t know these realities yet. Successful stories, videos, movies, etc. are so because they share themes that impact people. The commonality of good stories in any medium is that they make their audience feel something. We all want validation. We want to know that our feelings are justified, and feel comfort when they are shared. We like these stories because we can see ourselves – our lives – within them. This book is timeless despite its medium. The ways in which stories can be told is certainly evolving, but just as the Cinderella storyline will be repeated, this type of story – one that evokes powerful emotions indicative of the human experience – will persevere even if it is formatted in a different way.
On the other hand, the hypertext fiction article made me think about this book in an entirely different way. Maybe the Cinderella storyline, while familiar and comforting, wasn’t really the best or only way to tell a story. When Forever ended with the two main characters going their separate ways, my first response was one of great sadness and unease as I was craving that “typical” happy ending. But is that storyline really typical at all? Instances of tragedy and loss are indicative of the human experience – everyone faces them in their lifetimes. The recognition of such sad realities has manifested itself in many successful stories, such as Forever, The Fault in Our Stars, and many others. In this way, Forever and other stories that don’t have the Cinderella storyline appear more honest and prescient in the way they tell a story. In these types of stories, there is an overwhelming lack of control, which inherently makes us uncomfortable. However, that very lack of control appears to be more authentic. Hypertext fiction capitalizes on this lack of structure in the way it presents stories in a fragmented manner. You as the reader or viewer experience the story jumping from place to place. Instead of passively following a linear narrative, the viewer is empowered to experience the story based on their choices or actions in a more interactive manner. Additionally, unlike when reading a book, readers are more likely to detour from the story with hyperlinks that add to overall experience of the text. This method seems to enhance storytelling in a way that makes it more accurate to what we experience in our lives. Interactive storytelling on digital platforms represents a way to tell stories that differs from the way it is done so through books. One can argue the merits of both mediums, but there seems to be a common thread in the reader/viewer wanting to see themselves within a story. However, while printed literature keeps the reader confined in a linear narrative, digital literature (specifically hypertext fiction) allows the reader to experience the story in a varying and more chaotic way, one that I feel more accurately represents how we live. Ultimately, hypertext fiction might even allow readers to take back some of the control they crave by putting them in the position to choose the way they experience a story.