Fun da mentals : Rhetorical Devices for Electronic Literature

Wheels within Wheels: Montage and layering


Experiment: On Your Own
Exchange: Share Your Creations

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Collage puts several--and often many different elements on the screen at once. These can be text, images, sounds, etc. These elements work together --for example, each element may represent a particular voice or provide a specific type of information. Usually, the author pays careful attention to how all of these elements are placed on the screen.

Layers are elements on the screen which lie over or under another element. Layers can take on many aspects, depending on whether the author intends the reader to see all of the content or whether the author intends to hide content. Hidden content is called occlusion, obstruction, overlay, etc because readers know something is there but the full view is obstructed.

Layers can be slightly overlapping: Or layers may allow a little bit of the layer underneath to show. Layers can be slightly transparent (lower the opacity level) so that all the layers can be read at once. Layers can pile onto more layers until the screen is unreadable.
Layers can overlap Layers can go over Layers can be piled on

Electronic literature pieces can show layers dynamically:


Exercise: Wheels within Wheels

Take these elements and layer them on a screen as a montage or a layered work. You can put some elements underneath others, have elements appear when a reader clicks a button, have elements disapear to leave a single underlying element, or ... use your imagination.

Judy and her papa were singing in the car. Her papa was bringing her home from the aunts she stayed with for so long. But now her papa said it was safe for her to come home. She had forgotton how deep her papa's voice could be, how he could be the big deep tugboat that pulled the other boats along in the song. They had made up the song together when she was very young, and he had remembered exactly how it went. They slowed down to go through the checkpoint, and papa dropped his id card from his hand. "I'll get it, papa" Judy said. "No, no don't!" her papa cried. He reached for her, grabbed her shirt. And that was when the soldiers started shooting into the car.

I am on guard duty. I know each car holds the people I despise: too cowardly to fight us face to face. Each person trying to get through the checkpoint is trying to get to us. Everyone says that. Over and over again. And look at how many times it's true. The car in front of me now is an old rusted out Ford. I see the primer showing through the paint. I see the driver reaching down for a bomb to throw at us. I shoot into the windshield. The other guys scream, "Go Joey Go!!" I do not see the little girl screaming until much, much later.

A generation later, Judy is standing before a video camera, her waist thickened from the bomb belt and timer. She speaks slowly, carefully. "I do this for my God, who the others do not serve. I do this for my people, who are starving. I do this for my papa, whose bloody shirt is the only thing I have to remember him by."

Peace scrawl red shadow peace ds_init drop cap with cheltenham 18 as body Peace ds_crystal peace rabbit


Experiment: On Your Own


  1. Create 5 - 10 papers with content (images, text, etc.) around a central theme (idea, image, argument). Each of these papers becomes a layer in your work.
  2. Stack these layers in an order you like (you can make the beginning be either the top or the bottom layer).
  3. Punch a hole at the top of the stack and tie the layers together (with ribbons, string, rubber bands, etc.)
  4. Fan the text out so that some of the layer underneath is hidden by the layer on top.
  5. Untie the papers and rearrange the layers.


Team sports

(This experiment needs at least 4 players)

  1. Choose a central topic (image, idea, argument, word, person)
  2. Write for 5 minutes on that topic.
  3. Pass papers to the right.
  4. Read the paper you received and write a response for 5 minutes.
  5. Put your paper over the original paper so that the original paper can not be read.
  6. Pass papers to the right.
  7. Read only the top paper--NOT THE BOTTOM ONE--and write a response for 5 minutes.
  8. Put your paper on the top of the stack so that it is the only one that can be read.
  9. Pass papers to the right.
  10. Read only the top paper and write a response for 5 minutes. Put your paper on top of the stack.
  11. Pass papers to the right.
  12. Read only the top paper and write a response for 5 minutes. Put your paper on top of the stack.
  13. Punch a hole at the the top of the stack and tie the papers together. Now you have a layered work. You can add to your work if you want by adding images--either on the layer or as a separate layer--or assigning sounds.
  14. Spread out the layers and read the work.
  15. Hide some of the layers with the layers on the top.

Flash exercise

Try Jason Nelson's layeringFollow textual. This Flash piece will put layer of text or image, one over the rest, for about 12 lines. You can try the sample and download the Flash. Jason Nelson also includes a commentary on these in English. You can work without the commentary, but note that you either have to be familiar with Flash or work with someone who is.

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