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This article is taken from PN Review 150, Volume 29 Number 4, March - April 2003.

Linear Narrative and the Myth of Certainty Edward Picot

In print, works of fiction are conventionally expected to be linear, which means having a beginning, a middle and an end. Matters may be complicated by the use of flashbacks and so forth, but on the whole we expect works of fiction to tell stories, and consecutive stories at that. This expectation of consecutive narrative is at least partially dictated by our habit of reading a book through from the beginning to the end - which is how books are designed to be read. But because webpages are paid out differently from pages in a book - in a `cloud' rather than a fixed sequence - writers who use the Web as a medium are presented with an opportunity to challenge the linear convention. Not only is it easy for web-writing to be nonlinear: in a sense it's more natural. The medium lends itself more readily to the nonlinear form.

But why should we wish to challenge the linear convention? We can start to answer that question by recognising that the challenge is by no means a new one. George Eliot, a great moderniser of the English novel, writes at the end of Middlemarch that `Every limit is a beginning as well as an ending. Who can quit young lives after being long in company with them [she continues], and not desire to know what befell them in their after-years? For the fragment of a life, however typical, is not the sample of an even web...' Note ...


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