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This article is taken from PN Review 147, Volume 29 Number 1, September - October 2002.

The Unfixed Path Edward Picot

When fiction-writers set up their own websites, their first impulse is often to turn their short stories and novels into web-pages, without making any particular attempt to adapt them to the new medium. The results, regardless of the quality of the writing, tend to be fairly unreadable. Unrelieved texts of any substantial length are much more difficult to assimilate from the Web than they are from the printed page; and there are a number of reasons why this is the case.

For one thing, text on the Web tends not to have the available display-area all to itself. We are used to reading our novels and stories in books without any clutter in the margins, and with only minimal clutter (page numbers and headings) at the top and bottom of each page. Web-pages, on the other hand, are usually displayed in a browser 'window', where the contents of the web-pages themselves only occupy about two-thirds of the available screen-space, sandwiched between layers of toolbars. When we read a book, the writing on the pages in front of us is the only thing to lay any claim on our attention, until we put the book down or look up from it. But on the Web, the presence of this additional paraphernalia is a constant reminder that we have other options.

Secondly, the length of a piece of text on the Web is much harder to determine than in print. This factor should not be underestimated. When ...


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