When considering this project, an online novel delivered over email and stored on a website where people could sort how they experience the story, two other forms come to mind: the Choose Your Own Adventure Series and the classic hypertext novel Afternoon by Michael Joyce. Despite some general simialrities, Running Flat is a different sort of story than these two.
The Choose Your Own Adventure series featured plot driven young adult science fiction plots where, at various important plot points in the story, the reader can choose which of several actions the protagonist takes, leading to different conclusions.
Running Flat is different for several reasons. First, it is not targeted for young adult readers. Secondly, in Running Flat, the reader cannot direct the character to take different actions. The plot of Running Flat is crafted and fixed. What the reader can decide is how to experience the story–following one character or plotline and not another (or reading them all straight through).
In the 1980s, at the birth of the World Wide Web, it was theorized that this would lead to a revolution in storytelling. Readers would start reading one story, hit a hyperlink on an idea or character or setting that seemed interesting and move to another story. Michael Joyce wrote a story called Afternoon that served as the herald for this supposed new form of fiction. While this did happen for non-fiction (from FaceBook post to blog entry to Wikipedia article, etc) it never caught on for fiction.
Running Flat differs from Afternoon in that it doesn’t whip us from one narrative space to another. Running Flat is one story, woven from several stories, but not the heteroglossiac disconnected mass of text that was imagined in the hyperlink novel. True, there are points in Running Flat that take you to external webpages with the art of characters at the gallery or the singing of Wenonah Brooks, these are in service to the cohesive story rather than the story being in service to the structure of links.
Thoughts? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.