Story Structures: Fishbone

This type of hypertext story is the most similar to the one that I learned from a PBS special over 10 years ago. It is a traditional article or story with words and phrases linked to definitions or extended info. It doesn't move people far from the trail, so the idea of a linear narrative is kept intact. Using the metaphor of storytelling, this structure reminds me of an annoying listener who insists on always asking questions. In a positive case, it can add context and understanding. In a bad case, the story can lose its flow and the audience becomes lost in a sea of trivialities.

Works best with:

  • Ongoing stories where the writer doesn't want to rehash information from previous stories.
  • Science articles.
  • Stories which mention a large number of different people.
  • Transcripts that need explanation, like the state of the union address.

Technology: Wiki's already do this pretty well, where you can define certain words that will always link to specific information. Overall, this is one of the easiest structure to program for and is already utilized by several news sources (for example Yahoo.com and News.com).

Design: Asking a user to jump to a different page seems extreme, but is the most popular way to accomplish this structure. If the goal is to keep the user moving forward, not jumping back and forth, then a better method would be for the extended information to be made visible in/beside the story.

Example:

The landlady, Madame Lemercier, left me alone in my room, after a short speech impressing upon me all the material and moral advantages of the Lemercier boarding-house.

I stopped in front of the glass in the middle of the room in which I was going to live for a while. I looked round the room and then at myself.

The room was grey and had a dusty smell. I saw two chairs, one of which held my valise, two narrow-backed armchairs with smeary upholstery, a table with a piece of green felt set into the top, and an oriental carpet with an arabesque pattern that fairly leaped to the eye.

This particular room I had never seen before, but, oh, how familiar it all was--that bed of imitation mahogany, that frigid toilet table, that inevitable arrangement of the furniture, that emptiness within those four walls.

The room was worn with use, as if an infinite number of people had occupied it. The carpet was frayed from the door to the window--a path trodden by a host of feet from day to day. The moulding, which I could reach with my hands, was out of line and cracked, and the marble mantelpiece had lost its sharp edges. Human contact wears things out with disheartening slowness.

Things tarnish, too. Little by little, the ceiling had darkened like a stormy sky. The places on the whitish woodwork and the pink wallpaper that had been touched oftenest had become smudgy--the edge of the door, the paint around the lock of the closet and the wall alongside the window where one pulls the curtain cords. A whole world of human beings had passed here like smoke, leaving nothing white but the window.

And I? I am a man like every other man, just as that evening was like every other evening.

Excerpt from The Inferno, by Henri Barbusse.