In writing a fictional story, there are various ways of imparting extra information without adding bulk to the narrative. Some subjects depend on facts more than others, such as a historical novel or a forensic crime thriller.
Traditional printed novels have long used supplementary methods of aiding the reader’s understanding of what’s going on, by the use of footnotes or having a glossary, appendix or notes in the back of the book. These days, ebooks can use hyperlinks. This caused me some confusion when writing my first Cornish Detective novel.
I learnt most of what I know about formatting from Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, who is a big fan of using hyperlinks, both to aid navigation around the book and to add value to the reading experience.
The problem with hyperlinks in a novel is that they look horrid on the page, and encouraging the reader to drift away from your book, to follow a link on the internet, is unwise. I have a hyperlinked version of my first manuscript, and it looks like someone has attacked it with a highlighter pen! Increasingly, I’m thinking that using numbered notes would be less intrusive.
As I understand it, these are the definitions of the different terms for ways of adding facts to fiction:
*Notes: a comment or instruction at the back of the book, linked by a number in the text.
*Appendix: supplementary material that is collected and appended at the back of a book.
*Footnote: a printed note placed below the text on a printed page
*Glossary: an alphabetical list of technical terms in some specialized field of knowledge; usually published as an appendix to a text on that field.
*Hyperlink: a link from a hypertext file to another location or file; typically activated by clicking on a highlighted word or icon at a particular location on the screen.
Andrea Camilleri uses notes in his Inspector Montalbano crime novels, set on Sicily. These are often about the food that his gourmand protagonist eats, which always makes me hungry for pasta! I’ve recently been reading another Italian crime series, written by Marco Vichi, in which Inspector Bordelli solves crimes in Florence during the 1960s and 1970s. Like Camilleri, Vichi details the ingredients of meals his main character eats. He’s a veteran of WW2, a partisan who fought the Nazis, so some of the notes explain such things as political affiliations back then, as well as battles and the many superstitions of religious Italians.
As an example, for the text “How long had it been since he had gone to Soffiano to visit his mother’s grave? He always sought to avoid going on the second of November.1Any other day was fine,” the explanatory note printed at the end of the story is, “1—2 November is ‘il giorno dei morti’, ‘the day of the dead’, when families throng to the cemeteries to visit their lost loved ones.” This is a neater way of explaining something, than doing so in the narrative. The reader can look to find the meaning, if they choose, or ignore the link.
Many genres of fiction don’t need extra information, other than what the story is telling the reader. It’s unlikely that romance, erotica, ghost stories, Western yarns or fantasy tales would feel the need to expand their readers’ knowledge. Modern day literature eschews notes, though reprints of classic novels often add them—to explain the historical context. Similarly, translations of foreign novels will include helpful information.
Series of stories sometimes cry out for footnotes or endnotes. I’ve read several of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, which have humorous footnotes.
Do any of you use hyperlinks in your eBooks?
Have you added footnotes or endnotes?
If you write historical novels or technology-based stories, do you include an appendix or a glossary?
As a reader, do you check the facts that the writer directs you to—or ignore them?