in e-Literature, Storytelling

E-Literature – a New Form of Narrative?

What is the difference between standard literature and e-literature?

I only discovered that such a term as e-literature even exists in my Digital Humanities lecture last week. Electronic literature is, one could say, an emerging form of narrative; it is literature that was created digital and specially suits the digital environment. It does not include printed works in electronic format, such as an e-book. Generally, e-lit is interactive and resembles a narrative game. For instance, an e-lit narrative can be told through hyperlinks, hypermedia, additional sound, animated text and images and so on. The viewer/ reader of the piece is often required to interact and input something – mostly by mouse, keyboard or touchscreen interaction. Thus an e-literature narrative may differ each time it is read, depending on the extent to which it is designed to subject itself to user interaction.

The Electronic Literature Organization [sic] (ELO) defines e-literature as:

“works with important literary aspects that take advantage of the capabilities and contexts provided by the stand-alone or networked computer.”

De Vivo Fabio (2011) defines several important characteristics of e-literature, amongst others hybridity, mutagenicity and ergodocity.

By hybridity is meant the availability of “different semiotic forms (textual, graphic, iconic, sound, music)”. Electronic literature is not limited to static text and images – it embraces any digital file type and form.

Mutagenicity refers to the “ceaseless mutation of expressive forms (…) and digital technologies”. In other words, it is the ease and flexibility in changing from one form of presentation to another. An example of this generative narrative, which can be defined as “the production of continuously changing literary texts by means of a specific dictionary, some set of rules and the use of algorithms.” (Balpe, 2005) It is natural and relatively easy to provide a flow from one expressive form to another in the digital environment.

Ergodicity, which simply means interactivity, is central to understanding this new relationship between “man and the machine” and how they “become partners in a complex interaction.”

At present, the collection of existing e-literature is quite small, with many works being purely experimental and of poor quality. The ELO houses probably the largest collection of e-literature on the internet, while the ELMCIP and European Eliterature Collection provide a modest number of European e-literature samples.

I spent some time browsing through pieces of electronic literature in preparation for this blog post, but I couldn’t find anything that truly impressed me. What I find from the works I have viewed so far is that, although the interface and interactive features may be impressive, the content of the narratives is sorely lacking in quality. Most of the stories told and messages conveyed in the pieces I viewed were grotesque or offputting, and the rest didn’t seem to convey a sensible message at all. It seems to me that at present, writers of electronic literature, while having so much fun with the fluidity and dynamics of this new literary form, are forgetting that a good piece of narrative should be didactic and edifying.



Balpe, J., 2005, Principles and Processes of Generative Literature. Available at: [Last accessed 25th October 2016]

Electronic Literature Organisation, no date. Available at: [Last accessed 25th October 2016]

Fabio, De V., 2011, Eliterature: Literature in the Digital Era. Definition, Concept and Status. eLiterature & Electronic Literature. Available at:, 2011 [Last accessed 25th October 2016]

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