By Meagan Winker, Staff Reporter
On the University of Maine at Farmington’s (UMF) Symposium Day, a pair of Wilson Scholars presented their project, Tanked, a foray into the emerging hypertext fiction genre. Seniors Sean Igoe and Nicole Lejonhud read the first few chapters of their co-written story about Jack, a teenager working over the summer at the New England Aquarium (NEAq), where the newest exhibit features a mermaid named Nellie. Igoe and Lejonhud played with this genre’s format by creating a website to tell the fantasy short story.
Hypertext is a relatively new genre that is considered electronic literature because it needs to be read from a digital source. A hypertext story will often feature pictures, sound clips, and links to other websites, all of which are embedded within the story’s text. “It’s called an immersive text. It’s supposed to be a multimedia experiential, literary event,” said Igoe, a Creative Writing and English double major. Or more simplistically, “It’s a short story that is a website,” he added.
Lejonhud, a creative writing major, explained how Tanked as a piece of hypertext fiction worked differently than a typical e-book. “You have to move through the website to get to the story. It has pictures. The pictures link to the sources of the pictures,” she said. “So say, we have a picture of a flounder. If you click on the picture of the flounder, it will take you to the Wikipedia page of the flounder. It’s like hey, just in case you wanted to know what a flounder is, it’s right there.”
Lejonhud also thought the novelty of the hypertext genre influenced the formation of the project. “One of the reasons we did this was to spread awareness of literary hypertext. If we can introduce this new genre to the school, that’d be awesome,” she said. “It’s pushing the boundaries of the traditional idea of what literature can be and what it can do.”
Igoe drew inspiration for Tanked from what he was reading. “I was reading a lot of immersing texts similar to this one. Luminous Airplanes is just absolutely beautiful and I love it,” Igoe said. “And I wanted to do something similar. It’s just a really cool kind of writing.”
Lejonhud didn’t know what hypertext was prior to the start of her and Igoe’s Wilson Scholar project. “The project is discovering the ways that hypertext can work. I had never even heard of something like this. I didn’t know you could do something like this,” she said. “So the project is discovering exactly what we could do with the format and what the format could do for other people.”
Tanked is a completely original piece of fiction. Igoe and Lejonhud admitted that it would have been easier to adapt an already existing text, for the most challenging part of the project was writing the actual story. “It’s been bloody,” said Igoe.
The two don’t seem to regret all the effort put into creating their own website and story, though, they are adamant about the project’s purpose. “It’s about justifying [hypertext] as a genre,” said Igoe. “It’s not viewed academically…which it can be.”
Senior Allie Carpenter is familiar with the hypertext genre and found Tanked to be intriguing. “I’ve read stuff like this before- mostly just like, multimedia fan-fiction or like, exploratory web comics,” she said. “I really only like stuff like this sometimes because it breaks up my focus when I’m reading, so I have to be able to really pay attention to it. I can’t always do that.”
Carpenter, who perused beyond the initial chapters presented at symposium, compared it to her other experiences with hypertext fiction. “I like this story and I really like some of the transitions,” said Carpenter.
She specifically brought up the web-page within the story that contained only the word “silence,” whereas the previous page had been a lengthy conversation. “After a page of awkward dialog, it was just like, woah! Mind-glowingly cool!” said Carpenter.
Igoe and Lejonhud both expressed how much they were able to create and learn through the Wilson Scholarship program. “It’s allowed us to create something more dynamic,” said Igoe. “Everyone should apply for one in their time here. It’s a great program.”
Anyone who wishes to view Igoe and Lejonhud’s project can do so by visiting this website: www.tanked-the-tail.org.