Writing Hypertext Fiction: The Dream-Eater

Since college, I’ve wanted to write a story using hypertext, partly because of Serial Experiments: Lain. The show weaves together a bunch of different references to conspiracy theories and cyberpunk elements, including references to Xanadu, the life-long work of Ted Nelson. Xanadu was one the first hypertext projects, and was meant to lay the groundwork for “a global community united by perfect information.” There’s a great article in Wired about it, which includes a profile and interview of Nelson. Here’s the clip from Lain:

Fittingly, there’s another fantastic article in Wired about why hypertext fiction is a defunct format. In short, it’s generally considered too difficult to write and too hard to read, all without bringing substantial advantages over traditional, linear fiction. Print versions of hypertext literature, like House of Leaves or Choose Your Own Adventure, are either messes or lacking in depth.

As I’ve said before, any kind of ergodic literature should be intuitive and feature a narrative that matches the format. That’s what I’m shooting for in this new story, which is about time and dopplegangers.

The story has a working title of “Dream-Eater.” It takes place in an underground city that’s divided into two caverns, which have opposite day and night schedules. The story begins with a narcomancer, a dream-mage, waking up and realizing that his sleep schedule has been broken and he’s been sleeping for the past 24 hours. To compound that, he can’t remember what parts of the previous day were real, and which parts were just his dreams. In that 24-hour period, though, someone that looks like him has been carrying on his routine: cleaning clothes, talking to his friends, etc. The story is about him trying to reconstruct what happened before he went to sleep and what his doppleganger did while he was sleeping. It’s also about his slipping grip on reality.

To chart out the flow of the story and divide it into nodes, I started writing notes:

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The arrows on the left represent links to other nodes, which in this story lead to memories (which are fragmented and need to be pieced together), dreams, thoughts, or texts, like books or sheet music that don’t need to be included in the main text. The idea is to have the surface level of the story in the main nodes, but the deeper layers that reveal the truth, like thoughts and memories, hidden in a series of lower nodes that branch off the main narrative at strategic points. This way, the mystery isn’t just exploring the world and reality, it’s exploring the inner space of the protagonist.

Writing Hypertext Fiction: The Dream-Eater

Short Story Updates: “The Crownless King” and “Old No-Eyes”

Despite working my full-time job at Outer Places (which included an interview with P. Craig Russell, who’s scripting the new American Gods comic), I’ve been doing a lot of writing. I’ve got two stories on deck this month, one out for submission and one in the late stages of revision. At this point, I’m offering copies for people to read and let me know what they think. Here are the descriptions:

The Crownless King

When I took the draft of “The Crownless King” to a monthly Brooklyn Sci-Fi Writers workshop back in November, I was blown away by the feedback: people said it was “strange, eclectic”, “original,” “gruesome”, “fantastic,” and “fucking spectacular.” It was super encouraging, especially considering that I’d been working on the story for about seven months and eight drafts. You can read an excerpt and check out some of the sketches from the early draft, back in January 2016, here.

“The Crownless King” revolves around a wizard and his student holed up in a frozen tower buried under snow in the aftermath of the end of the world. While they’re preparing to head up to the surface, the wizard (named Samal) decides to teach his student (named Iz) a very old, dangerous piece of magic, which is ‘the crownless king’: the ability to remove one’s head.

People loved the lore and history woven into the story, as well as the parts dealing with self-surgery and magical flesh-work. It’s one of the first stories where I get to showcase my world’s take on wizards, magic, and ghosts. Here’s are some notes/sketches I did around the magic of ‘the crownless king’:

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Old No-Eyes

This is another one I brought to the BSFW writing group, this time in December. “Old No-Eyes” came from a much bigger and more complicated story involving Yute, the subject of my post on psychopaths and madness, and the Nokizi, the book of necromancy and mathematics that I ended up writing especially for that story. I wanted to focus on those two elements, so I cut it all down and wrote a new story, which is “Old No-Eyes.”

“Old No-Eyes” deals with Yute, an eccentric, ruthless necromancer with a talent for mathematics, and his former, backstabbing colleague named Tenza, who needs Yute’s help decoding a bizarre occult book written by an anonymous madman who calls himself “Old No-Eyes,” who claims that the text will teach the road to immortality to anyone who can decode it.

I’ve been passing around this one since December, and again, the response has been overwhelmingly positive: despite being a psychopath, people love Yute and his twisted sense of humor. People also liked the way mathematics was worked into the story and the depth of the worldbuilding. It’s the first of my stories to dive into the world of necromancy and introduce Yute, who’s one of my favorite characters. Here’s a sketch my friend Joel Clapp made of him:

One of Joel Clapp's initial sketches of Yute, based on Charles Manson
One of Joel Clapp’s initial sketches of Yute, based on Charles Manson

Want to read A COPY?

If you’re interested in receiving a copy of these stories, I can send you a link to the private postings on Medium or a PDF via email. Shoot me a message at christophmahon [at] gmail [dot] com or hit me up on Twitter @DeadmanMu.

Short Story Updates: “The Crownless King” and “Old No-Eyes”

New Essay in Clarkesworld Magazine: “Frodo is Dead: Worldbuilding and The Science of Magic”

I’ve said this before: magic should not be science. Magic can be systematic and internally consistent, but it shouldn’t be reduced to a human tool, like astronomy or chemistry. A lot of writers and worldbuilders don’t seem to understand the difference–didn’t Arthur C. Clarke famously say that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic?”

But there is a difference. That’s what my new essay is about.

In this essay, titled “Frodo is Dead” I wanted to show how basing magic off of science, ration, and the Enlightenment philosophies that informed them inevitably leads to a breakdown of its fantasy world by turning it into a mirror of our world.

You can read the essay here on Clarkesworld!

New Essay in Clarkesworld Magazine: “Frodo is Dead: Worldbuilding and The Science of Magic”