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Forepaper by Deena Larsen
for Media Morphs the Messenger 98

At what cost closure?

As most of you know, I've been grappling with Stone Moons for about 3 years now. It started as an innocent little exercise in Rob Kendall's class. Jeanne Templeton and I wanted to merge mythology with modern life, and hypertext seemed a good way to do this.

My friend has an autistic child and has fought the system for a long time to keep her child at home and to get the services he needs. So we took her battle and made it into a mythic epic.

However, the novel itself has taken on epic proportions. It is about 400 nodes, 5000 links, and 70,000 words (about twice the size of afternoon). And the end is nowhere in sight.

The problem is twofold: First, as we add more incidents and flesh out the main story, other stories unfold. As these stories unfold, they add to the main story. For example, one of Laurel (the autistic child)'s teachers has breast cancer, the other has an ailment "she won't speak about in public." My test readers wanted to follow these side stories and thought that not having these avenues detracted from the hypertext. Second, the work has a very schizophrenic nature (like almost all hypertexts). Four main parts are woven together: a mythic cosmogony (Sarah, the mother, believes that the moon is trying to steal her child), a chronological series of e-mail over one year as Sarah battles the school district, a scattered, deeper level of subconscious recollections as Sarah understands more about what Laurel and the battle mean to her, and Laurel's writing (although Laurel cannot speak, she can type if someone holds her hand--an apocryphal communication.)

So the reader expects very different stories and styles to merge into one cohesive whole. This expectation naturally gives rise to a further expectation that everything will be explained--no stones will remain unwritten.

When you follow all of the potential avenues in a hypertext, the text begins to resemble a one-to-one map, where each thing depicted on the map is as large as it is in real life. This kind of map rapidly loses its utility. At what point do you as reader stop following links and close the text? At what point do you as writer say, "enough, there are some things we will not explore together"?

I would like to explore the issues involved in closure and reader expectations. What constitutes a finished work? How do you test to ensure the work is complete--and not over complete?



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