Why I Started to Write Hyperfiction

Why I Started to Write Hyperfiction

“Hyperfiction” sounds like sci-fi, and it is—but not in its substance, in its nature. Or at least, it was sci-fi until the Internet was invented. The term is short for “hypertext fiction”: in other words, fiction written on and for the Internet, usually not following the typical linear progression of hard-copy fiction.

My first extended spate of fiction-writing came several years ago, when I was in grad school circa 2003-2005. In that time I wrote dozens of stories and three novel-length manuscripts. I could have created a blog to post my writing on, or self-published a book. Social media were far less developed than they are now, though, so it was much harder to find an audience online; and self-publishing carried much more of the stigma it still, to some extent, has. So, I went the classic route: I submitted my stories to literary journals, and the best of my book-length manuscripts to literary agents. Several of the stories were published in campus journals, and I made it as far as discussing revisions with an agent, but I ran out of steam.

It just didn’t seem worth it: I’d have to spend hundreds of hours writing and submitting unpublished manuscripts on spec, in the hopes that someone would someday bite. In the best-reasonable-case scenario, I’d be picked up by a literary publisher and have my book read by a few thousand people. This blog has a much bigger audience than that, and I can write whatever the hell I want. Especially since I’m a first-draft writer who generally hates making revisions, this is much more rewarding.

But this isn’t fiction, and that’s a big part of why people respond to it. On this blog we’re generally writing about our own lives and our personal perspectives on various topics, so I imagine it appeals to people for the same reason other, similar, blogs appeal to me: you feel like you develop a relationship with the blog and the bloggers, following their writing and getting to know them (or at least whatever they care to share) over time. That’s not radically different from reading fiction—you feel like you develop a relationship with well-written fictional characters too—but for some reason fiction online hasn’t completely bled into the stream.

When I encounter fiction online, it’s generally marked off in a literary stockade. Various publications hold “micro-fiction” contests, or publish short stories on their blogs. Many writers have undertaken extended hyperfiction projects, but though I follow a fairly literary crowd online, I rarely see any fiction nosing its way into my consciousness. It’s rarely reblogged or retweeted or commented on or interacted with: it sits apart, as if in a museum.

So I decided to create a fiction project that aims to occupy that space: a work of fiction that feels like a first-person blog, that you can read and interact with just as you do all your nonfiction friends. It’s called Unreality House. The premise is that four promising writers have been awarded fellowships to spend seven months in a house in rural Minnesota, where they will supposedly have the time and space to dedicate themselves to their writing without distraction. The first four posts introduce them: Will, Lucy, Tanner, and Tate. Their stories will unfold in real time, along with yours and mine. Eventually, they’ll start writing and posting fiction of their own. You can tweet at them and drop questions in their ask box. You can follow them on Facebook.

You’ll still be able to find me here, same as always. Every day, I’ll write something real and something unreal. I hope you read it all and enjoy it, and best of luck—in this #NaNoWriMo—to those of you crafting your own unrealities.

Jay Gabler