What are cyberlit's advantages?

Linkage, Interactivity/Non-Linear Narrative

The linkage dynamic that hypertext gives to cyberspace is, of course, its definitive literary advantage. As critic Carrie McMillan (2002) put it, "Those who sing the praises of hypertext fiction/electronic poetry and prose, whatever you may wish to call it often cite above all the possibilities it offers the writer for non-linear narratives, a break away from traditional story structures into a new realm..."

Traditional linear narrative found in the time-honored book format may hold the reader's attention over all other structures, but for the computer screen, the hypertextual format offers a much more natural and appealing way for a reader to read a story, any story, since it avoids tedious text-scrolling. It also gives far more latitude to the writer. Beginnings, endings and chronological order are not the inevitabilities they are in print book format. Flashbacks and parallel storylines are more natural, and even backward and sideways movement is possible.

Also, hypertextual writing mimics the way our minds work, presenting choices and ideas with every click. (All creative sites are linked below, for instance, but if you click on them, you'll go there without easy return, which can lead you away from this essay and into their creation. Therefore your choice is to go and stay, go and return, or restraining from clicking until second reading.) Cybernarratives can become a multi-layered world of non-chronological events, as McMillan pointed out, such as the interactive game-like computer narrative fiction, Dark Lethe, where readers contribute their own writing to the make-believe world. Or the cyberwork can be, as McMillan said, a "literary introspective meandering with a stream of consciousness feel, often about the act of writing itself, as seen in a work such as Water Always Writes in Plural."

But perhaps its best advantage is that is more like real life: "Linear narratives are poor at showing the kind of existence where people just muddle along from one situation to another, without getting anywhere in particular or learning any valuable lessons," explained Edward Picot. "They perpetuate a myth of personal progress—the idea that life is leading us somewhere, even if it's to tragedy. And because they oblige their writers to simplify the stories they tell for the sake of forward momentum, they also perpetuate a myth of reality.

Hypertextual writing also forces us to be more poetic in our understanding of the form itself. "With hypertext we focus, both as writers and as readers, on structure as much as on prose," Robert Coover pointed out, "for we are made aware suddenly of the shapes of narratives that are often hidden in print stories...We are always astonished to discover how much of the reading and writing experience occurs in the interstices and trajectories between text fragments. The text fragments are like stepping stones, there for our safety, but the real current of the narratives runs between them.

Cyberspace's writerly advantages, though, go much farther than its creative hyperlink potential.

Accessibility to Revision

A web-published piece, unlike a print piece, is always and forever revisable. A cyberpoem or cyberfiction is finished at its "published" point, allowing it to do all the things that a published print piece should—stand on its own, be of its time period, and ultimately stand the test of time. But the unequivocal finality of a print author's creation is not necessarily true for the cybercreator. Just because it has been "published" to the web, doesn't mean it's forever final. Being "published" takes on a acutely different meaning in the creative universe that is cyberspace.

In a print journal, whatever version of a piece is published in, say, a 2000 journal edition would be the one forever in that edition. But online, links change all that. First, the "piece" of an e-literary magazine is sometimes not physically at the e-journal's location (server). It is possibly linked to the piece wherever it resides, and therefore sends the reader "there." So, a researcher stumbling upon the 2000 publication of a creative work might see a 2000 copyright but find the work itself listed as updated in 2009. Just as with websites of all kinds, its author can continue to update his or her work while continuing to be linked to the original edition where it first saw "print."

That may seem unusual for a creative piece, yet its an obvious advantage for the cyberwriter (or a temptation for the obsessive/compulsive one). Unless an effort is made to duplicate the original, no other version but the present one exists—the version online is always the eternal original.

Accessibility to Process

Cyberwriters often seem compelled to add a link to their creations offering a discussion on theory and process, no doubt due to the newness of the medium and its wide-open linkage power freedom endemic in the form. For the inquisitive and the beginner, this offers unprecedented, immediate access, unparalleled in centuries of print literature. He/she only has to explore the creative sites or their author's websites to find "essays," "author's notes, or "about" links instantly available. Here are three examples:

• Jim Andrews website vispo.com. (Even his poetry game, "arteroids" offers a process essay.)
• Stephanie Strickland's work SkyPoems-Vniverse.
• Edward Falco's Charmin' Cleary

Hypermedia Diversity

The breadth and diversity of cyberlit's advantages are best shown by example:

• Hypertext creations can make powerful visual statements that print cannot, as in:
The ABC Book of North American Extinctions
• Hypertextual writing can create unique interactions that examine the writerly reader's curiosity:
The Girl and The Wolf (requires Flash)
• Some cyberpoetry can seem to be a response to Eastgate founder Mark Bernstein's admonition to be whimsical, but like "moving" concrete poetry, it can also force us to look at words and letters detached from their usual meaning.
(Go) Fish
Animpoema/Animpoem (requires Flash)

WWW Worldwide Exposure

Electronic publisher Coach House Press explains succinctly a few of the remarkable advantages of the medium:

The internet allows millions of people around the world to access our site, and read authors whose printed books might never be sold in their local bookstores. Publishing online also offers multimedia and other features (like full colour images) that would be too costly to produce physically, if they are possible at all. Another clear advantage for readers is the ability to search a full text—or a full library—in seconds.
Collaborative Possibilities

The most promising advantage is one that entails all the above. Cyberspace is a multi-level creative medium with potential, literally, as far as the cyber-eye can see, constantly surfacing with new names and new surprises. The future may see writers, computer experts and visual designers working together on hypertext projects in the way that teams collaborate on TV programs and feature films. (See Does cyberlit turn writers into programmers?)

Wave of the Future

A product of a creative medium still in its infancy, hypertextual writing reinvents itself every few years, inspiring recurring echoes of it "being dead," (See What are cyberlit's disadvantages?) There will be creative writers who embrace the "new" in order to renew it. Since the 21st century shows no promise of "unplugging," it's safe to say the "new" advantages of cyberliterature will only grow along with the medium's technology, ever complementing, more than competing, with the universe of print literature for the tech-savvy creative writer's attention.

RoadSite: references/ linkography