Fun da mentals : Rhetorical Devices for Electronic Literature

By the Letter: Fonts create a mood

Exercise: By the Letter

Experiment: On Your Own
Exchange: Share Your Creations

Student works {None yet} Share your work


Font choice affects the tone and the meaning of an electronic literature piece. There are thousands of fonts out there, and each font has a different connotation, depending on your culture and print history.

Serif fonts have a letters that have a little line (or serif) on them. These tend to be easier to read for a long time.
Sans serif fonts, without the serif, are cleaner and often used for headers or screen reading.
While unique fonts will carry your message, they are very strong and can be hard to read or distracting. Choose one or at most two of these to accent your text.
Serif fonts sans serif fonts use unique fonts sparingly. Looking at this one should make you nauseous.

Handwritten scripts can also create different impressions.

Develop fonts as part of the scheme for your elit piece. The scheme will plan out how your piece will look (font, color, and layout) and how readers interact with your piece (navigation). You could use a different font for each voice or you could use a different font to show links. Your scheme should plan for the fonts you will use for your headings, accents, link markings, and text body. These can all be the same font or they can be in the same family of fonts (different variations of the Futura font, for example) or you can use different weights of the same font (normal, bold, italic), or you can use entirely different fonts. Think about the moods and emotions you want to evoke in your readers and choose fonts to further that state. Many sites provide more information about fonts: Fontscape catagorizes fonts according to moods, Elated provides an article on getting the mood right for a website, and Design and Publishing explains how to choose a font for your purpose .

Some basic rules for developing font schemes:

You can always break the rules, but know what you are doing and why you are doing it. Show your scheme to others and see if they respond the same way you do.



For roman character languages, render the word "peace" in different fonts. Use these as headings for one of the texts below--match each heading to a text to create a mood for that text. Think about why the text matches or works with that font. You can use these fonts, which are copywritten by Nikolay Dubina. Use these only in your personal, not commercial work. To translate, cut and paste these letters from this jpg in any image manipulator. These fonts do not come with diacritical marks, so you will have to draw your own.

peace in five different fonts.

1. Judy cooked her mother's favorite--baked fish with lemon. She had spent the day cleaning the small apartment and everything shone in the evening sun. Her mother walked through the door, tired after a long day's work of cleaning other people's homes. They sat at the table, silent. Judy swallowed slowly and took a deep breath. "I'm leaving tomorrow morning. I have to do this." Her mother shook her head, hands to her mouth. "Don't you see, mother," Judy continued. "It's for papa. All these long years, I've known. I need to do this for papa."

2. The sun is setting as I write to you. The sunsets here are brilliant panoramas with magnificent swirls of light and color. It is breath taking until you realize that each of those particles lit by the sun used to be on the ground. A garden tended by an old man, limbs aching. A rooftop filled with flower pots--geraniums and daisies. A dusty path the children took to school.

3. William tested the microphone carefully and made eye contact with every reporter present. "We are not engaged in arms deals with either side of the conflict. We reject these insinuations completely."

4.Joey looked at his own son, now proudly adjusting the shoulders of his new army uniform. Joey couldn't say "Don't do it." He couldn't say that the loss of any life was one too many. That the ones he had killed haunted him every day, sipping phantom cups as he drank his tea, catching phantom balls as he played catch with his son. The words wouldn't form in his brain or gather at his mouth. Instead he took his son's hand and held it tight.

5. When the swallows fly, they avert their eyes.

For non-roman character languages, try the same exercise, but find five different fonts for the title word.

Experiment: On Your Own

Get some fonts. There are many places to get fonts and font advice: Da Font, Font Garden , Abstract Fonts and 101 free fonts.

Look at the Idea Book's sample pages with different fonts conveying different moods. Think about your font choice carefully--ask a few friends what they think of your choices. What do the fonts convey to them? What is their first impression of your font, color, and layout?

Choose one of the previous exercises or something else you have done and use four different font schemes on your work. Experiment with how the schemes change the look and feel and mood of your piece.


Drop caps (for letter-based languages)

a) Sense

  1. Get the same letter in three different fonts that would work well as a drop cap but not as a font to use in the body of the text. Find a page of fancy fonts and print the letters out, devise your own, or cut some out of a magazine.
  2. For each of these fonts, write out words that begin with that letter and have associations with that style of font. For example:
  3. Spiral, spinning, spring, supreme, sliding Sneaking, slithering, swan, sweet odors from flowers and perfume, stealth Shadow, swaying, scratchy, scraped
  4. For each of these words, use the letter as a drop cap and write something based on that word.

b) Nonsense

  1. Write a nonsense paragraph--you can use dictionary legal words and mix them up, or write in textese abbreviations, or make up words.
  2. Make three copies.
  3. Put a different drop cap on each of the copies.
  4. Examine how the initial letter changes your interpretation of the nonsense words.


Ideographs (for ideographic based languages

  1. Choose an ideograph in a special script (for example, a calligraphic script).
  2. Enlarge the ideograph so that it covers an entire page.
  3. Write about your associations of that ideograph.
  4. Arrange your writing on and in that ideograph so that the word and your associations are integrated.

Team sports

  1. Each person finds a letter in a font that would work well as a drop cap.
  2. Write a small section that would go with your drop cap.
  3. On the back of your paper, write out which drop cap you used (either the name of the font or a description of it)
  4. Switch drop caps.
  5. Write another section that goes with the new drop cap.
  6. On the back of this paper, write out which drop cap you used (either the name of the font or a description of it)
  7. Line up all of the papers and the drop caps separately so that everyone can see them. Don't let anyone see the back of your papers.
  8. Each player takes a turn and tries to match a text with its drop cap. (No, you can not match your own!)
  9. Explain why you think this is a match.
  10. Have a director (someone who is not playing) look at the back of the paper and determine if the guess is right. If it is, the player gets to keep the text. If not, the text continues to be "in play."
  11. Take turns until all the texts have been matched with the drop cap.


Do the same steps 1 -5 in the Sense exercise, but substitute nonsense words or words from another language.

  1. Switch your works with someone else
  2. Interpret this person's work --what can you tell about the words just by the font they are in?
  3. What mood is conveyed by the fonts?
  4. What would you expect to come next in the text?

Exchange: Share Your Creations

Share your work in person
Play the drop cap game with others. Do they get the same answers?

Read your works in a "font slam"--like a poetry slam only put the fonts up on an overhead or on a computer where they can be seen by the audience and read your works.

Share your work online

We'd love to show your work--either send it or send a URL for your work here to be a part of this site.

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