What is electronic literature?

What is electronic literature?

I consider Shade of the Morning Sun “electronic literature”, but what exactly is that? Isn’t it just another word for an ebook? Well, no – not really!

Electronic literature is work that could only exist in the space for which it was developed/written/coded—the digital space, which, while commutative, cannot be without the technical affordances of its underlying systems.

– Heckman, Davin; O’Sullivan, James (2018). “Electronic Literature: Contexts and Poetics”Literary Studies in the Digital Age: An Evolving Anthology

In layman’s terms, electronic literature could not exist without being digital.

This means that electronic literature more than anything takes advantage of all the possibilities that digital literature production offers, e.g. interactivity, hyperlinks, scripts, music, video, and so on.

Shade of the Morning Sun as E-lit

The Shade of the Morning Sun stories primarily offer the filter options of the blog system to invite you to read the stories in many different sequences. There is no single ‘correct’ reading of the entire novel in stories. Thus, the main options are:

  • You can read stories with a single, recurring character only.
  • You can filter to read from a certain POV – e.g. 1st person.
  • You can read the stories present to past.
  • You can filter by musical inspiration
  • You can filter by mood
  • You can also jump between stories when a story features a hyperlink to story that is connected (but not necessary to read).

I also have stories that overlap in time but can be read separately. For example, “The One I Tried To Destroy (III)” and “That Imaginary Desert” both place on the same day with the same protagonist, but you can also read them separately. I plan to do plenty more of those.

In addition there are other aspects of e-lit that are (or will be) incorporated into Shade of the Morning Sun, such as embedded video and Google Maps. And more such aspect will undoubtedly be developed. However, I don’t feel video etc. are particularly important, except in a technical way, to designate Shade as e-lit. They supplement the reading experience but do not structure it.

The many forms of electronic literature

The Electronic Literature Organization (ELO) has, as mentioned in the FAQ, a great archive of past to present forms of electronic literature, with many interesting ways of using the computer to create stories. Some of the early examples are, of course, rather simple but nevertheless fascinating. The tradition goes back almost as long as we have been able to use a computer!

Examples of modern e-lit include the following forms:

  • Hypertext fiction
  • Kinetic poetry presented in Flash and using other platforms
  • Computer art installations, which ask viewers to read them or otherwise have literary aspects
  • Conversational characters, also known as chatterbots Interactive fiction
  • Novels that take the form of emails, SMS messages, or blogs
  • Poems and stories that are generated by computers, either interactively or based on parameters given at the beginning
  • Collaborative writing projects that allow readers to contribute to the text of a work
  • Literary performances online that develop new ways of writing

(source: Rettberg, Scott. Electronic Literature (p. 5). Wiley. Kindle Edition.)

So as you can see, electronic literature is very varied, but I would say that Shade of the Morning Sun primarily hypertext fiction. I plan to discuss this topic much more on the blog, but for now, at least you have an idea where I think of Shade in the ‘grand scheme of e-lit’.

Shade of the Morning Sun as simple hypertext fiction

If you study hypertext fiction you quickly find out there are some tremendously difficult pieces to read, which, again, may also be the reason why this e-lit is still very much niche! Especially the need to interact with the text and make choices all the time may drive readers away from the text if they come with more traditional expectations of ‘just reading for pleasure’.

I will also write more about that particular distinction in a future blog post but I think it is fair to say that Shade of the Morning Sun is hypertext fiction that is relatively ‘simple’. The opposite would be much more complex hyperfiction where you can have wildly different outcomes for a character’s fate depending on your choices of reading! You can’t do that in Shade, but you can get to explore aspects of a character and situation you otherwise might have missed.

As such, the interactive choices are mainly there to help you focus on and explore a character you like and maybe, once in a while, stray a bit and read a story that thematically or contextually has a relation to the bigger novel-in-stories.

Take a story like “The White Pill”, for example, which is a small piece about Carrie’s mother. It can be read as a companion piece to the story, “In the Eye of the Storm”, or skipped entirely, depending on your preferences. So that is about as complex as it gets, which is also what I want.

For me inviting a reader to become immersed in a relatively straightforward story is my number one goal, not requiring a reader to construct meaning out of many different pieces of text.

In other words, I like to experiment with form but not that much đŸ˜‰

The commercial cousins of e-lit

I would be remiss if I did not mention that while electronic literature as studied by ELO tends to be relatively niche, its most popular presence is probably on the ever-growing, commercial serial storytelling platforms like Wattpad, Inkitt, Radish, etc.

Wattpad alone is positively gargantuan with hundreds of millions of stories, many of them with video, music, and images, and a lot of possibilities for interactivity, like inline commenting. This type of electronic literature is a growing industry in the English-speaking part of the world and has been a really big industry in China for some time.

I lean towards seeing these manifestations as a hybrid between ‘true’ e-lit and more traditional literary forms, such as the print book.

Many of the stories are text online and do not use other technologies, and quite a few are created, it appears, in the hope of ‘getting discovered’ and get ‘published for real’ – i.e. with a traditional publisher in ebook, audio, and, of course, print form, maybe even adapted for TV-shows and so on. Platforms like Wattpad make no secret either of their purpose in encouraging writers to go down that path.

There are many other manifestations, of course, more or less well-known:

  • There is web fiction online elsewhere than on the big platforms, and fan fiction, too.
  • There is the whole alternative history fiction community and its ‘fake’ narrative historical fiction with images, video, timelines, discussion forums, and whatnot.
  • And there are numerous roleplaying games online that are mostly text-based and use fiction segments or create fiction-like segments from the interaction.

I’ve probably forgotten a few, but these are the ones I can think of on top of my head.

That’s it for now. But I hope you got something from this small overview, not in the least a sense of the traditions which Shade of the Morning Sun is inspired from.