How to Use Hyperlinks in Blog Fiction


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:
  1. Referring back to previous events and characters
  2. Normal Blog linking and esoteric references
  3. Leaving "Bread Crumbs" for your careful and savvy readers.
Referring back to previous events and characters
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.


Lethe said...

Good topic. I've worked on three fiction blogs thus far. The first which does not use links. The second which does but only within my content. And the third which is my latest experiment (Lethe in Spain) that employs different kinds of links, video, picture, and info links. Some links link back to my content, but most are like those advent day calenders where you pull back the picture and find a piece of chocolate.

For example, if I talk about the metro station in Madrid, you can click on a link that is a YouTube video of the metro station in Madrid. Or if I mention a certain type of building, the link takes you to a flicker photo of that type of building, or even the exact building itself.

I've found that creative linking is the last stage in the process of blog fiction. The icing on the cake, if you will. And I am careful not to put too many creative links in my posts, because they can get distracting. A couple strong creative links, 2-5, I've found, can go a long way.

Charlotte said...

Agree with almost all of this. One point I do want to make, though, is that it's very easy to run into problems with either fake profiles (almost never allowed by networking sites) or linking to images that aren't yours (stock art exists, but most stuff out there is not stock). I also think I would find it a little annoying as a reader if too much was linked; I don't think I would want more than one "extra" per post. Extra windows are not convenient. I'd be happier to see pictures, etc integrated into the post. But maybe that's just me.

Lethe said...


About linking to people's images, I disagree. Most people want you to link to their content be it webpages, images, videos etc. This is a major force behind the Internet: linking and sharing.

I've noticed before that you're shy to link to others' content or to use other people's work on your own website. My belief is that as long as you give that person credit, it's okay. To contest this point, you'd have to overlook most of what goes on on the web, from filesharing to image proliferation to social media.

One person likes an image and posts it their site, another person likes an image and posts it to theirs , ad infinitum. That's how the web works and what connects people to each other.

Now what does this mean for online novelists? I think Dustin approaches the question from the right angle. It's better to acknowledge the medium for what it is and use it to your advantage.

Not need to fear, Bekkah, you don't have to limit yourself to stock photos. The web is yours.

There's a great book called "The Gift". Lots of writers and artists esteem this book because it propounds a theory that all art is free and open to the public. Whether you agree with this or not, I think it's an interesting theory considering where we are headed . . .

Charlotte said...

Yes, linking to things should be fine, although not if you pretend it's your own work. But otherwise, of course that works. But putting non-stock images in blogs-- definitely a copyright infringement, even if you give credit. It is true that a lot of illegal activity occurs on the web, but it's also true that many lawsuits have followed. This isn't likely in any case, but I don't want to get near that.

I don't link much, this is true, but I think it's mostly because a) I simply don't have time to create an entire online persona for Charlotte, be it a stock album or a facebook profile (disregarding the fact that you can't legally fake facebook, either, and I'd never go through all that work to have it taken down); and b) Charlotte writes mostly about books or other offline media. I'm not against linking, I just have never been particularly impressed by it and don't see any totally feasible ways to work it in. (I am attempting to work in more of my photography, though).

I researched a decent bit last semester about the Internet and creativity for an anthropology paper I was writing about African-American musical practices of transformative appropriation and the laws of the music industry. I do find myself agreeing with more liberal authors/lawyers like Lawrence Lessig (who created Creative Commons), who argue for a more open sharing paradigm. However, this is not the current legal reality and, as an artist, I'm also aware that many artists are very frustrated about their work being ripped on websites and blogs across cyberspace. So yes, there are a lot of ways I could make my blog a little prettier, a little flashier, but I'd rather not risk the consequences.

DustinM said...

Current copyright laws suck. I've said it before, and I'll say it again because it just can't be said enough.

That being said, I don't think it'll ever be okay to post someone else's picture on your blog without permission, but I don't think that anyone is suggesting that you can or should do that.

Linking is okay. Nobody has ever successfully argues that having a hyperlink to another webpage\image\video is a violation of copyright. So as far as that goes I say link away if you want.

Charlotte does make a good point about too many "extra" links being too distracting. With the exception of links to esoteric references and past events, I too would probably limit "extra" links to only 1 per post.

Lethe said...

Well, I guess I just see a different reality. Copyright law on the Internet is feeble at best. I'm credit every photograph I use. Most of the pictures I find on Flickr. If the photography/artist posted them to Flickr, if they made them available to the web, and didn't take the precautionary efforts to make the image undownloadable, then I take see the image as being "shared with the world". Being shared, I feel I can credit the artist in my blog, and use the image.

This actually promotes the person and therefore seems to me like an advantage. I've never been affronted by people whose images I use and in general I think the images add an important dimension to my novels.

As for linking more than once, I would say under four. It's the same in an informational blog. The Internet is a conversation and that's what linking is all about.

joel wyatt said...

Hey, nice post!

Of the three reasons you mentioned, "breadcrumbs" is what I'm experimenting w/ the most on "Flyover City" -- I do some non-fic freelancing on the web, so I'm trying to integrate those restaurant / business features / reviews in my posts.

Which will start coming more fast-n-furious again, in the near future. Thanks for the nod, btw...

Eli James said...

The problem with links in a narrative isn't a structural one - it's a presentation one. Links distract a reader. They provide incentive to click away from the page, to interrupt a narrative. You may be right in saying links can be used in blog fiction (which is, to a degree, like any other blog out there) but link usage is far more limited in blooks, unless the blook is an experiment in non-linear fiction.

Blog fiction differs from blooks in several minor ways, mostly because the narrative arc in blog fiction is the gradual relationship between blogger (or fictional personality) and reader. Links and how they work are one of these minor differences.

Well, that's my view on this, at least.

DustinM said...

Eli, thanks for weighing in on the topic.

What makes you think that the presence of a link in a blook is too distracting for a reader?

What about using a backlink when a past conversation or event is referenced. That could be really helpful for a reader of a serial blook? Would you discourage those as well?

Robert said...

One tool which I believe is being overlooked in the blog fiction world is mashups.

Instead of creating a single blog, which is essentially episodic or serial in form, one can use many different blogs, along with other sources, within a mashup to create multi-layered works.

I'm not quite there yet myself, primarily because I'm in the middle of setting up my own mashup engine, but I'm working on it :-)

This multi-layering ties back to an earlier blog post of ours about the need to understand history: history is not one-dimensional. Mashups aren't one-dimensional either, and that technology gives authors the option to present a single coherent front-end [the mashup] with an infinite number of views or layers to represent each perspective or issue or link or object they want to include in the "story".

Start thinking n-dimensionally :-)

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