Electronic Literature

For those people that has been part of the digital revolution the term “Electronic Literature” might not be an unfamiliar term but still there are many people who have no idea that electronic literature exists or they just may think that by electronic literature we mean print books distributed as PDFs or some other electronic format. This report is written to give a better understanding of Electronic literature with the focus on Hypertext Fiction as one of the most prominent genre of electronic literature and their differences with print narrative. Also a brief history, development and the current state of Electronic Literature will be discussed during this report.


What is Electronic Literature

Hayles (2007) describes in her article that “Electronic literature, generally considered to exclude print literature that has been digitized, is by contrast “digital born,” a first-generation digital object created on a computer and usually meant to be read on computer”. She also points out to the definition by Electronic Literature Organization in which electronic writing is referred to “works with an important literary aspect that takes advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer”. Furthermore, Tofts (2005) in his book “Interzone” has made a great statement about Electronic Writing as he mentions

Electronic Writing, of course, refers to something more complex than replacing ink with pixels. It implies a multi form mode of composition that integrates words and audiovisual media in the dynamic space of the interactive screen. Unlike a film, which is serial and flows in time, electronic writing arranges its material discontinuously in space. As networked was being redefined, since there was no prescribed order in which a story must be followed. This made way for experimentation with the very idea of what narrative can be in digital environment, As a consequence our reading habits dramatically changed. Rather than being outside the story, we became enmeshed in story spaces”.

Electronic Literature is also characteristic by its variety of genre presented along a historic timeline such as: Hypertext fiction, network fiction, interactive fiction, locative narratives, installation pieces, ‘codework’, generative art, and the Flash poem.

While these descriptions can give a good concept of electronic literature, a comparison of electronic literature and Print literature might have a better realization of the whole concept.

Features of Electronic Literature and its differences with Print Literature( print narrative)

There are many characteristics which take Electronic Literature far from print literature include: use of multimedia, no clear ending or beginning, multilinear/ non- liner narrative or pathways, unfolding narrative through interaction and participation by the user, etc.

Unlike Print Literature which is a pure text, Electronic Literature uses many things to convey the message such as text, Links, image, sound, navigation.

As Douglas (2000,p.39) in his book The end of books- or Books without Ending describes, in Print narratives the readers start the reading where print begins on the first page of book, story, or article and they gradually move from the beginning to the end by following a carefully scripted rout in the way the writer wants them to get there while readers in electronic narratives can begin or finish the reading at different points. Maybe as a good example we can mention Victory Garden by Stuart Moulthrop in which readers are confronted among a great number of possible ways of entering the hypertext, three lists that seem to represent a sort of table of contents and none of the place in the path has priority over any of the others. Also in this great artwork there is no single ending too as it has six different points of closure. (Douglas 2000,p.40).

Print Literature has a linear pathway. It means that the reader follow the story from page to page or frame to frame in a fixed order. In contrast, Electronic literature, have a non- linear or multi-linear pathway and the readers can choose which pathway to take.

Moreover, Print Narrative is far from being a literally interactive activity and in fact, readers in print narrative are passive readers while in electronic narrative readers are active and by each interaction or participation they make, the story will be more revealed. In other word, the readers in electronic narrative seen as breathing life into text, considering, or making their possibilities to the real- even receiving the text by creating it, in an effort almost equivalent to that exerted by the author (Douglas 2000,p.42)

Hypertext Fiction

Hypertext fiction also known as Hyperfiction is one of the very well-known and prominent genre of Electronic Literature characterized by the use of Hypertext links. Saldarini(1994,p.1) mentions that reading Hyperfiction is dynamic and reader can often explore a plot from the perspective of different characters ( Bishop n.d). Also, Bolter( 2001) points out that Hyperfiction “challenges our understanding of fictional forms that have flourished in print as well as forms from other media besides print” furthermore, Bishop (n.d) suggests two components for simple Hyperfiction models ; “episodes” and “decision” points. The paragraphs of text or graphics that form the story are “episodes” and the hyperlinks that allow the reader to decide what happens next are “decision”.

Where and when did it emerge from

Hypertext Fiction has been available since 1987 when Micheael Joyce, Jay Bolter and John Smith presented Storyspace (The authoring hypertext progrom) in the first ACM Hypertext conference. Their paper included a footnote that offered a copy of Joyce’s hypertext fiction, Afternoon, a story which was created in Storyspace. Three years later in 1990 both, Afternoon, a story and Storyspace were published by Eastgate System (a Massachusetts based electronic publisher) (Hunsinger,Allen&Klastrup 2010,p.486). Michael Joyce’s Afternoon followed by other hypertext fiction writers such as Stuart Moulthrop’s Victory Garden, Its Name Was Penelope by Judy Malloy, Carolyn Guyer’s Quibbling, Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl and Deena Larsen’s Marble Springs (Ciccoricco 2007; Hayles 2007). All these hypertext fictions were written in storyspace and they were mostly text based, with linking structure, available on diskette and later on in CD- ROMs. In fact, to the early development of the field, Storyspace was so important and the works created in it have come to be known as “The Storyspace school”. In the late 1980’s and 1990’s Storyspace along with Macintosh’s Hypercard were the choice of many writers in the field of electronic literature however by development of the World Wild Web and by emerging of the new forms of electronic Literature the role of Storyspace as a primary Web authoring program for electronic literature changed (Hayles 2007).There are two reasons for this implication firstly Storyspace have a limited color palette and secondly the Storyspace could not properly handle sound files on the web ( Hayles 2007)


Development and Contemporary context

Since the earliest examples of Hypertext Fiction, by movement to the web and development of digital technology and multimedia new forms of Hypertext Fiction such as Web Fiction (also known as Network Fiction/Digital Fiction/cyber Fiction) have been emerged and became more wildly accessible. These new forms unlike the early examples are not just blocks of text with limited graphics, color and sound they are much fuller use of multi modal capabilities of the web. They are more about the association of sounds and images with the written text (Hayles 2007). These new forms of hypertext Fiction brought many improvements with themselves. Web fiction as an example, brought the speed and ease of replication of originals, the freedom of the manipulation and interactivity, the multimedia possibilities, It brought the transmittance easier and faster and gave the chance of accessibility and being in accord with the latest ideas (Shumate 1997). Moreover, based on these new mediums we witnessed even more interesting style of narratives with the wide variety use of multimedia such as Dreaming Methods. According to Campbell (n.d)

Dreaming Methods is inspired largely by abstract concepts that would perhaps be difficult to capture using writing alone. The multi-layered complexity of dreams/nightmares and real/imagined memories that feature in many of the narratives are represented by a heavy mix of media that is designed to be compulsive and immersive. Projects are inspired by music, film and web design as much as literature, and attempt to take strands of each and weave them into something entirely new.


In last decade of development of electronic literature as computer have moved out of the desktop and went into the environment, the new phase in the construction of narrative forms emerge. In this period many short fictions delivered serially over cell phones to location specific narratives keyed GPS technologies (often call locative narratives). Although locative narrative as a new genre of Electronic Literature has many potential to discuss about, the limitation of this report won’t let me go further.

To conclude my report, Electronic Literature as a unique medium with varieties of genres tests the boundaries of the literary and challenges us to re think our assumption of what literature can do and be.


Bishop,J.’The social construction and narrative structure of Hypertext Fiction’,Wales, CF38 1AN, UK

Campbell,A.’Undreamt Fiction’, viewed 15 March 2011

Ciccoricoo,D. 2007,’Reading Network Fiction’,The University of Alabama Press, ANSI Z39.48-1984

Douglas,J.Y.2000, ‘The End of Books – Or Books without End? Reading Interactive Narratives’, The University of Michigan press,United State of Amarica,pp.39-42

Hayles,N.K. 2007, ‘Electronic Literature: What is it’,The Electronic Literature Organization, USLA, v1.0, viewed 15 March 2011

Shumate,M. 1997,’Hipertext Fiction’, Hyperzones, Viewed15 March 2011

Tofts,D.2005,’ Interzone’,Craftsman House, Victoria, chapter 6,pp.104

  1. sluu2811 says:

    Wow Sherry, I never realized electronic literature was so integral to the development of so many forms of media today. It seems that since we are born into and brought up with this form of literature that we take it for granted. I also didn’t know there was a difference between print literature and electronic literature in the way that you refer to it because to me, they’ve always been the same thing. It’s also funny that you describe interactive media works as well because I would’ve never pictured it when referring to electronic literature. After reading your report though I can see how most media works are interconnected and how there are forms of media that we take for granted.

    • Thanks Sluu for your interest on my report. To be honest before writing this report or better to say before seeing Megan’s Of day of night I always thought that Electronic Literature is just the same as Print Literature instead of the fact that one is written in paper and the other one is written in digital environment. After seeing Megan wonderful artwork and doing some research I found that electronic literature is not as simple as I thought and still has many more to discuss.

  2. Hey,sherry is great you posted this by electronic literature,just kidding!Your report have attractived so much attention from me,i start thinking “whats the relation between electronic literature and electronic magazin?”(i posted “electronic magazine”as my report)
    as your report pointed out
    “Electronic literature, generally considered to exclude print literature that has been digitized, is by contrast “digital born,” a first-generation digital object created on a computer and usually meant to be read on computer”.
    Also you provided a lot useful info.
    The term of Electronic magazine is the powerful combination of traditional media and internet technology.
    The electronic magazine have all the features of electronic literature(in your report), So i think electronic magazine is a kind of electronic literature.
    Anyway it is really good you bought me the thought and encouraging me to do more research

    • Hey Jing . Thanks for reading my report and your interest in the subject of my report. In fact, electronic Literature and electronic magazine have some feature in common as both can be seen on the electronic devices and they both might use multimedia but in case of electronic literature it is more about the narrative and how it can be in digital environment as well as the way readers interact with the story. In other word electronic literature refers to those artworks that tell a story and this story will be told by using of hypertext just like the early example of this field. Also to unfold the story the readers should do some interaction for example clicking on many hypertext or images. In some samples, readers even have to solve a puzzle to unfold the story.

  3. thanks for the answer,would like talk about it more when we see each other,have a nice break…..

  4. purpledray says:

    Hi Sherry, great topic, but it would be awesome to include eBooks, or devices like kindle, or other eBook readers which are completely transforming the way we interact with literature – essentially for the first time, since the moving type printing press.

    I like how you have included a variety of genres in electronic literature, especially locative narratives which sounds very interesting and very interactive. Your exploration on this topic is great.

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