Hyperlink Story

A Hyperlink Story is any work that, at first blush, seems to be made up of several separate, unconnected, and unrelated storylines that gradually, over the course of the work, slowly merge into a single overarching storyline. It is only after the merge that the audience realizes that it was all one big story all along.

The simplest description of this kind of plot is a "story without main characters" where every character more or less has equal weight in screen-time and star-power. The name for the trope comes from film critic Roger Ebert, and is definitely Truth in Television. Other terms for this, proposed by film theorist David Bordwell is the "network narrative", where he notes that it aims to show a larger pattern underlying the individual trajectories of disparate characters, where the central theme is the network of connections between the stories.

Another Side, Another Story can be the videogame equivalent. Compare Plot Line Crossover, which is just a brief intersection between unrelated plots. Working the Same Case is a subtrope. Hero of Another Story, The Moorcock Effect, "Rashomon"-Style and You All Share My Story are Sister Tropes. See also Arc Welding.

Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers is this.
  • Sin City.
  • A revamped Dial H For Hero comic series, titled simply H.E.R.O., was a long and involved version of this. Each issue told the story of a man or woman who found the HERO Dial, used it, and ultimately lost it — but it also included a subplot in which Robby Reed, the original user of the dial, breaks out of prison and tracks the dial down. In the last handful of issues, Robby Reed gathered several of the dial's previous users together to help him stop a serial killer with the power to use any super-power he can imagine.
  • The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, was inspired by the Spirit (see below) and while Morpheus=/=Sandman is the main character for most of the story arcs, an equal and great part of the comics dealt with supporting-characters, minor characters and one-shot stories of Historical Fiction. The final story, The Kindly Ones is mostly told from the perspective of Lyta Hall who ends up becoming the woman who kills Morpheus.
  • The Spirit by Will Eisner while ostensibly a pulp-hero story about the title character and his adventures often had many strips where the Spirit was off-screen or arrives only at the end. Most of the story dealt with one-shot characters, supporting figures and sometimes narrated from the perspective of villain and villainesses.
  • The Trifecta arc, which had storylines from Judge Dredd, The Simping Detective and Low Life cross over as one. Interestingly, The Simping Detective was originally supposed to be one of these.
  • The Marvel Universe and DC Universe can be this way sometimes, especially if the story is a Crisis Crossover.
  • Gene Yang's American Born Chinese is a textbook example of the form. The story begins with three separate characters in three distinctively separate storylines, but by the end all of their stories tie together into a significant whole.
  • Watchmen by Alan Moore has a cast of 6 costumed heroes with an intricate past and history, as well as an extended supporting cast of ordinary humans who weave in and out of the larger story and contain many vignettes that work in counterpoint to the main story. Ultimately, the story doesn't really have a single main heroic protagonist, with all the main characters having equal wright in screentime, presence and weight.

    Film 

    Literature 
  • Ian McDonald's novel River of Gods.
  • The novels of Sarah Dessen, which frequently have characters from earlier novels making brief appearances in later ones.
  • The Valley of Horses, the second novel in Jean Auel's Earth's Children series, alternated chapters focusing on Ayla and Jondolar, until they met about two-thirds of the way in.
  • A Confederacy of Dunces has this.
  • Anything written by Neal Stephenson, but especially Cryptonomicon and, to a lesser degree, The Diamond Age.
  • The Remarkable Journey of Prince Jen mainly follows Jen, but each of the artifacts he carries winds up in the possession of another character, whose story is begun and followed for only one chapter before the book goes back to Jen. All of them make an appearance and play a necessary part in the ending.
  • Middlemarch
  • The Jack Vance short story "The New Prime".
  • A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin has a revolving POV structure where each chapter is narrated by alternating series of characters from different parts of the fantasy setting, from different classes, genders and ages. Some of the plot threads: the Night's Watch, Essos rarely overlap directly but play as parallel narratives to the realm of the 7 Kingdoms which is the arena comprised of most of the characters.
  • Glen Cook's Starfishers trilogy.
  • The Star Wars Tales trilogy are all like this, with interconnected stories from background characters.
  • Most books by Nick Perumov are like this. They start with many plots (at least three, but there are up to six at some points), which seemingly have nothing to do with each other, and only gradually do we see how those are related.
  • Haruki Murakami's After Dark. There are about three to four different perspectives at first, then we learn how those characters and plotlines are connected.
  • Tad Williams loves this trope.
  • Tom Robbins's Jitterbug Perfume jumps between seemingly unrelated characters on different continents and even living in different millennia before tying their stories together.
  • The Rain Wilds Chronicles by Robin Hobb begins by switching between the perspectives of several seemingly unrelated characters; over the course of the books, they all converge on the ancient Elderling city of Kelsingra.
  • The Last of the Venitars does it over a period of centuries.
  • Halting State and Rule34, both by Charles Stross, are presented this way. Each book has three different characters getting drawn into events and gradually finding their paths intersecting by the end. While the three characters (a beat cop, an accountant, and a computer programmer) in Halting State were all Working the Same Case, Rule 34 changed this up a bit by having the three characters run the sliding scale of law vs crime, with a detective, a petty criminal, and a black marketeer who only becomes more charming as we learn more about him.
  • Later novels by Douglas Adams were very fond of this. Books like Mostly Harmless and Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency feature several loosely conected plots that come together by the end.

    Live Action TV 
  • Heroes, especially the first season.
  • Most episodes of Seinfeld.
  • Lost. The backstories of the characters start to interconnect this way, starting around the 16th episode when we learn that Sawyer met Jack's father in Australia.
  • The Wire is a Hyperlink Story. Every named character, and some that aren't named, eventually affect the overall plot in some meaningful way.
  • Six Degrees
  • The Pilot Episode of Modern Family, where we don't realize until the dinner party at the end that the three families are related.
  • Traffik
  • Each episode of Touch has several scenarios that appear unrelated, but eventually connect to each other in specific ways
  • The fourth season of Arrested Development: the action between the fifteen episodes happens simultaneously and while the plotlines appear separate it constantly turns out other members of the family were just offscreen.
  • Canadian horror anthology series Darknet works this way.
  • 2011 sitcom Love Bites had three stories an episode that were showcased separately but happened simultaneously, and occasionally characters or events from one would appear in another. While nearly every episode had a totally different cast, there was also regulars Judd, Colleen, and Annie who acted as a connection to nearly everyone else who appeared.

    Video Games 
  • Gemini Rue has 2 separate stories at first: Azriel is looking for his friend on a rainy planet, while miles away, an amnesiac is trapped in an odd complex. Near the end of the game, it's revealed that the two are one in the same, where Azriel is the amnesiac with false memories. He ends up killing the man who once ran the complex.
  • Live A Live. The final bosses of each chapter have only one thing in common: their names containing the word "odio" in one way or another.. Only in the secret, eighth chapter do we find out that all of them are incarnations of the Demon King Odio, a noble knight turned evil that transcends time and space.
  • Broken Age at first glance appears to be two stories following two teenagers who's only link a common theme of coming of age and escaping the roles forced upon them by their parents. In actuality Shay is unknowingly in control of the monster that is attacking Vella's world.
  • While the first Ace Attorney Investigations was fairly strightforward in how its cases were connected (they were all linked to the same international smuggling ring), the sequel's first four cases seem completley unrelated at first glance. An assassination attempt on a foreign president, a murder inside a prison, an unsolved case that was the last one Edgeworth's father took before his death, and an assault and a murder during Edgeworth's Prosecutor Investigation Committee hearing. It's only once you get to the fifth case that it's revealed they all link to the Big Bad in some way. The killer of the third case was the Big Bad's father, who abandoned him and fled the country. He ended up in an orphanage, where he witnessesd the assassination of the president of Zheng-Fa, arranged by his body double. The body double is the president you met in the first case, having replaced the real one. The owner of the orphanage and a corrupt prosecutor were in on the assassination and helped cover it up. The orphanage owner went on to become the prison warden you meet in Case 2, and the corrupt prosecutor is the head of the PIC and the killer of Case 4. Every previous murder except Case 3's was orchestrated by the Big Bad to bring the conspirators he witnessed to vigilante justice.

    Webcomics 
  • Dead Winter: The webcomic follows Monday and Lizzie, who appear unrelated to each other except for one chance meeting at a diner. Later it is revealed that Lizzie's father was also employed by Monday's former employer, and then their story arcs merge.
  • Irregular Webcomic!: What started as different themes based on which Legos the author possessed, became an attempt to fill up the crossover table before becoming a full-fledged Myth Arc.
  • Dreamcatcher (Not to be confused with the Stephen King novel/movie.)
  • The prologue of Stand Still, Stay Silent happens Just Before the End and jumps between five groups of people in five different countries reacting to the disaster underway, escaping it either by chance or active effort. The reason these characters got any focus at all becomes apparent only after a 90 year Time Skip, when the people organising an expedition in what the disaster turned into a Forbidden Zone turn out to have familiar last names.

    Web Original 
  • Broken Saints starts out as four seemingly unrelated stories. By the end, it's only one story.
  • Fine Structure has the teleportation experiments, the Powers, and whatever the heck Mitch is. The scientists involved with each all started out working together in the first story but went off into their own occupations and storylines, only reconverging about halfway through the story.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons episode "Trilogy of Error" has three interlinked plotlines - Lisa had Linguo the grammar correcting robot, Bart and Millhouse went on an adventure, Homer got his thumb cut off... all converging at the end.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "The Cutie Mark Chonicles", each of the Mane Six ponies relates the story of how she discovered her special talent in life and earned her Cutie Mark. It turns out that Rainbow Dash unwittingly had a hoof in helping the other five discover their destinies.
  • Futurama usually features a main story and a subplot that come together at the end, much like The Simpsons. However Three Hundred Big Ones and Prisoner of Benda episodes comprise entirely of subplots that all connect into each other.
  • Justice League especially by the time of its Unlimited Phase which essentially became an ensemble film of multiple heroes and villains who conducted separate missions, and had apportioned amount of screentime and A Day in the Limelight episodes.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HyperlinkStory