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Why is electronic literature different than traditional print?

Nao!_text
As an ebook avoider who is more likely to thumb through an auto parts catalogue than actually look at an ebook, I realized that the first thing I had to do in exploring the world of digital literature was to get straight on what I’m talking about. I needed some definitions, because I had a sneaking suspicion that there’s a lot more out there to be curious about than just electronic books.  What exactly are the new forms that we’re seeing today?

I came across a 2013 Library of Congress program entitled “The Electronic Literature Showcase”, 3 days designed to raise awareness of the growing field of digital literary expression, which included the exhibit, “Electronic Literature & Its Emerging Forms.”

The curatorial statement for the exhibit defines electronic literature as a “digital born” literary work, or something created on a computer and usually meant to be read on a computer.

Which, honestly, makes me kind of start snoring a little bit.

But, hang on. Read through an overview of the exhibit, and it gets more interesting. Electronic literature, by this definition, is special because it takes advantage of what’s unique and different about computers and devices. It builds upon, experiments with, and extends what we’re already doing with print, but goes beyond it, in ways that print can’t.

The overview goes on to say:

Words dance across computer screens while games become poems become puzzles, or readers choose their own path through multi-layered hypertext narrative or use hand-held devices to view works that are location-aware.

It makes sense to me (especially after taking a look at some of the latest, best offerings, which I’ll share in a later post) that there really are new emerging forms of narrative that are their own animal. Think about the early days of television. People in the industry would have had to figure out that you couldn’t just slap a head-on stage production on TV – they had to figure out a whole new form, with cuts and camera angles and all the endless touches and techniques that differentiate screen from stage.

The exhibit’s notes also make the point that electronic literature is an artistic medium, just like any other medium. “Give an artist something, anything, to create with––air, animal skin, paper, computer screen––and she or he will find a way to use it for making art.” 

The takeaway: there’s a whole experimental form called “electronic literature”, which is so much more than just ebooks.


Ebooks & Multiple PoV's - Sky's the Limit

Last week I mentioned Lise Quintana, a writer and entrepreneur who’s developing an app that will support ebooks with multiple viewpoints.

 

Think of televised sporting events, where you can change the camera angle. Quintana wants to do the same thing with books, for an unheard of level of storyworld immersion. You’ll be able to read the main character’s point of view, then the dad’s, then the dog’s, and then the talking can opener’s point of view.

 

“You’ll be able to read the same book over and over, and get a different experience every time,” says Quintana.

 

With digital publishing, she says, you can create “enormous, epic, self-referential works that fold in on themselves...You can actually follow a character just like in real life and see what they are doing. When you put the book down, the story world continues.”

 

So how does that change the story?

 

I would guess that stories will start to become huge collaborations between many different writers – because what writer is going to write all those POVs, and stay with one story for that long? I know I’d get sick of it after a while, and be eager to move onto my next story.

 

That’s not the only change Quintana sees. In this bigger, richer story, the reader gets to make choices about the story. She can even have some impact on the story, in some ways. We’re talking interactive story worlds again, which I’m too old-school to understand or appreciate right now. But I’ll post on it in the future.

 

And if the Dear Reader has an impact on the story... the writer is losing control over her creation.

 

Yeah, I don’t love the sound of that either. But perhaps that's one of the directions we're headed in, and I’m wondering how to embrace that.

 

thanks to Douglas Crets for his post which inspired this one.


Ebook Enhancements? Start Thinking As You're Writing

 

Most writers have heard the classic writing advice: “Butt in chair.” Being a writer is about sitting alone in a room and staying there until the book is written.  

 

But I’ve been wondering – now that a book can be enhanced with music, sound effects, embedded content, and graphics – how do you create that kind of a book? Not by working alone, I’ll bet.

 

Deskology, honest edition

 

Do you have to team up first with web designers and digital artists? Or do you pitch the idea to an agent or  publisher, who then puts the team together?

 

I looked at Andi Buchanan’s process of writing Gift (an interactive digital YA novel released in March 2012 by Open Road). When Buchanan started writing Gift a couple of years ago, she was just beginning to read ebooks on a tablet. Wouldn’t it be great, she thought, to take advantage of the “shape-shifting, dynamic” aspects of the technology? And wouldn’t her book be a perfect fit?

 

Publisher’s Weekly talks about Buchanan’s process, from which we can learn a few lessons:

 1.      Think about potential ebook enhancements as you’re writing, and be open to where the new universe of possibilities takes your writing.

 

  2.     Know something about interactive design.  (Um... Methinks I see a future post. After I’ve learned something about, you know, interactive design.)

 

3.     Look for a music collaborator in the obvious places, like YouTube. Buchanan saw FreddeGredde’s performance there, liked it, and asked him to do the soundtrack for the book.

 

4.     Stay true to the story. “I wanted to respect the reader and not just have wacky enhancements because we could,” says Buchanan.

 

5.     Even as you’re staying committed to storytelling, have a vision for how the book might be on a tablet. Like Buchanan, come to your publisher with “a ton of crazy ideas.”

 

Thanks: Mary Kole’s post, “Digital Inspires Collaboration” (at KidLitApps.com) inspired this one.