I wanted, in writing "Charmin' Cleary," to wind up with the hypertext equivalent of the traditional short story. Such a notion might at first seem at least a little odd, given that traditional short stories are linear and strive for a sense of completion, while hypertext is nonlinear and emphasizes movement and process over closure. Why would anyone think it desirable to develop a hypertext equivalent to the short story?

Because. Because I'd like to bring some of the effects that I love from the short story to the hypertext narrative; and while I don't know that it's possible, I see no reason not to try.

Excluding the two title screens, this author's note, and the bio page, there are thirty screens in "Charmin' Cleary": ten screens for Ms. Cleary, ten for Professor Blat, and ten for the various other outside observers of the incident between Blat and Cleary that is at the center of the tale. The whole piece can be read, in its entirety, in a half-hour or so. It is not necessary, of course, to read it in its entirety. This is still hypertext, after all; and the story was written so that readers can enter the narrative at several different points and exit where they choose--and still come away having experienced some or all of the story's effects. For those readers, however, who are on some deep level disquieted unless they know they've read every single word of a story (and I admit to being such a reader), that's possible in "Charmin' Cleary." It's a short hypertext: when you've read thirty screens, you've read all there is to read.

Keeping a hypertext short doesn't mean it therefore is more likely to achieve that "force of totality" that Poe claimed for the short story, since that certainly has more to do with unity and development than length--and the whole notion of totality is seriously complicated in hypertext. As I said, I'm striving here for the hypertext equivalent to the short story. To that end, I have tried to produce desired effects, as Poe advised, by combining "such events as may best aid . . . in establishing this preconceived effect." And I have kept the piece short and carefully structured.

In the end, it may turn out that hypertext is simply too wild a beast to be comfortably strapped into even the equivalent of a traditional genre. Or it may not. Either way, hypertext is certainly capable of producing the qualities Poe, in his introduction to Hawthorne's stories, ranked above all others as marking the good prose tale: "invention, creation, imagination, and originality."

"Charmin' Cleary" is an attempt to rein in hypertext, at least for a moment, to see what sort of tricks might be accomplished with a tighter hold.

Ed Falco

Blacksburg, VA