The term non-linear is often applied to digital storytelling when multi-pathing is probably more descriptive of the new challenge within the medium. Non-linear in its strictest sense simply means non-chronological. This is nothing new in storytelling. In the Odyssey [HtSBBC], written about 800 BC, when Odysseus returns home, his old nurse recognises him while washing his feet and goes into a long reminiscence which forms a digression about Odysseus when he was a young man before the opening of the story. In film this would be done through a flashback. Non-linearity when applied to digital narrative could be defined as laying out a story so that the reader can leap from any one point in the story to any other point in the story. However, to circumvent any confusion, I will refer to this as omni-directional pathing. This sort of pathing is a tricky task at best and is usually met by either reverting to prose poetry, or anti-fiction and the purely aesthetic. A number of works on the Eastgate publication list represents these approaches, such as Stuart Moulthrop's Victory Garden [Mou91] or Michael Joyce's afternoon, a story [Joy91].
I have found it unusual to discover anything like a complete story coming out of this shape, because lack of narrative progression provides too little support for developing character and plot. For a short work the audience may be willing to wade through all segments of a narrative in order to piece together a coherent story. For a longer work the tendency is for people to lose interest after only a few screens. The most workable solution may be to create narratives for the omni-directional pathing shape much like Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats [Eli39] by T.S. Eliot or Our Town [Wil38] by Thornton Wilder which are collections of short self-contained stories held together by a common theme.
Copyright © 1996, 1998, 1999 Katherine Phelps