Will “Stories” Still Have A Beginning, Middle, and End? UPDATED

David Nygren asks a good question: How will the digital age affect the structure of “story?” Ten, twenty, forty years from now, will readers be content with the ancient conventions of narrative structure, meaning a structure that consists of a beginning, a middle, and an end?

When he first posed this question yesterday (in a tweet….), my instant reaction was yes! Of COURSE readers still want to read stories and stories consist of, well, a beginning, a middle, and an end.

But then I started thinking beyond my knee-jerk reaction. After all, I just finished posting a series here at my blog in which I wondered if we’re living in a new age. If so, I wondered, will we dismantle ancient ideas and institutions and replace them with new modes of organization and thinking that we’ve not yet even imagined?

And if that’s the case, why should or would the “story” be immune?

Answer: it may not be!

Added after initial post: If I remember right, back in the early 1990s, there was much talk about this very subject. Writers wondering how the use of “hyperlinks” could, should, or would affect narrative flow, and thus the structure of story. Other writers were toying with placement of words on the page, that kind of thing.

So it’s not like no one’s thought about this before — but I suspect what used to be the ramblings of eccentric minds has become the norm.

Indeed, as I write the book I’m working on now, I constantly ask myself: When this book is published, will readers be content with static words on a page?

Eg, when I introduce a historical figure, like Gustavus Swift, should the text include a link to his entry at Wikiepedia? What about sources? Typically, I document the source for every quote I use in the book, and collect all those sources in the “Notes” separate section at the end of the book. Will an e-text have links directly to the source? How about the index? Will a reader be able to go to the index and click on an index entry and go directly to that page?

I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out in another two or three years . . .

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