It seems that blog fiction writers just can't win when it comes to the editorial reviews at Web Fiction Guide. Check out these two reviews. First, this little excerpt from a Gavin Williams's review of Charlotte.
The Charlotte character mentions a website where she collects photos; a real blog would link to it and display them. Blog fiction should use the web just as well, if not better, than your average person’s real blog.A good point that Gavin makes. Now let's take a look at an excerpt from another review. This time Morgan O'Friel's review of FlyOver City.
Another problem with this story is the liberal use of the ever-controversial hyperlinks through-out the blog. I found myself feeling as though I had to click on the hyperlinks to understand the references (or else why would the author put them in there), but once I did, I got so distracted by the other sites that it threw me right out of the story.Well this creates quite the conundrum, doesn't it? Whether or not you use hyperlinks in your blog fiction, you lose. So what do you do? Well, I think that Blog Fiction is a little young to say that things should or should not be one way or the other. There is no "convention" to follow. I think ultimately you should do what you think is best for your particular story. Maybe someday, after a lot of experimentation, "conventions" and "best practices" will develop for Blog Fiction. That day is not today.
That being said, I'm not going to let it stop me from offering my opinion on the matter. As of right now, my opinion is closer to Gavin Williams's than to Morgan O'Freil's. I say, link away. It's one of the built-in advantages blog fiction has over dead-tree publishing. People read blogs all the time that have links in them. I think they'll figure out how to read fiction with links as well. I don't think they'll get distracted by too many of them.
I can think of 3 instances where you would want to use links in your story. They are:
- Referring back to previous events and characters
- Normal Blog linking and esoteric references
- Leaving "Bread Crumbs" for your careful and savvy readers.
The first case where you might want to use links is when referring to a past event or character in the story. Imagine if you're reading a book and a character disappears on page 50, and then reappears page 150. By then you may have forgotten who he is. How convenient would it be to be able to go back to the first page he appears to remind yourself who that person is. The ability to refer people back becomes more important for Blog Fiction, because now imagine instead of reading something 100 pages later imagine it's 100 days later. Links solve this inherent drawbacks to serialized fiction - people forgetting what happened since the last entry. Also, it's a great way to get new readers caught up without having to reread the whole story. The User Pool uses this linking strategy a lot.
Normal Blog linking and esoteric references
Another way to use links on your blog fiction site is to use them exactly the way you would on a non-fiction blog. That is, you would link to stuff that your character might find interesting. Videos, news events, and other sites they find. Links like that could either give comic relief to your story or offer insight into what that character finds interesting . You might also use links to reference something your readers may not be familiar with. For instance, the Cranky Product Manager is all about creating software. Not everyone understands software development. So, when the writer mentions the "Agile" development method, she provided a link to a Wikipedia article about it. Those who know what it is (or don't care) can skip over it while others can click the link for more information. The story is not ruined for readers who aren't "in the know" because they can find out, and the story is not interrupted for readers who are "in the know".
Leaving "Bread Crumbs" for your careful and savvy readers.
The third way of using links is to reward careful and savvy readers by leaving "bread crumbs" (additional information in the story) on other websites. This is not something that I've seen done a lot, but if used, can be really fun for readers to find. Lord Likely is the only fictional blogger I've met that stays "in character" on other web sites.
The bread crumb idea is something I thought of while reading Fate's Acquittal. One of the entries makes reference to the website Don't Date Him Girl. The website is meant for women who get treated like crap by an ex-boyfriend. They can tell all the horrible things he did to her as a warning to other women that they shouldn't date the guy. In the story, one of the characters get listed there by another character. The blog quotes word for word what is written about the male character. I thought to myself, wouldn't it instead have been a lot more fun if the writer would've created an account under the name of the female character "writing" the bad stuff and then actually have an entry on the website that is bad mouthing the male character. Then, in the blog entry it could list the general "gist" of the post, but actually link to the full listing on the site. Wouldn't that have been a lot more fun? Careful and savvy readers would've checked the link and found the article(rewarded), while careless or hurried readers would've missed it.
Another example from fate's acquittal is the use of myspace and facebook. Sure the characters have a facebook and myspace account but they really aren't updated that often. In the story there are numerous references to myspace and facebook where the author could've created and linked to fictional characters' profiles.
Another good example that I can think of comes from the first entry of FlyOver City. In it he references (and even links!) to a yahoo page about "Taki's" restaurant. A really fun "bread crumb" could've been the fictional character leaving a review of the restaurant on the yahoo page. Again- this would've rewarded careful readers who clicked through and may have noticed it.
So there are my suggestions for when and how to use links in a blog fiction. When, if ever, I attempt to write my own blog fiction, I would use links for all 3 purposes I've laid out. However, if you're a writer and don't use all or any of my suggestions I wouldn't be upset. As long as whatever you're doing works for your story. Experiment and use what works for you.