Fun da mentals : Rhetorical Devices for Electronic Literature

In Your Arms: Changing context via node paths


Experiment: On Your Own
Exchange: Share Your Creations

Student works {None yet} Share your work


In an electronic literature piece that follows different paths, a single node or sentence can have widely differing tones, meaning, and implications—simply by changing the nodes which precede and follow it. Thus, nodes can be repeated and the language in the node gains power and complexity with each repetition as the reader approaches the text with different states of knowledge.

Electronic literature pieces can have multiple opening nodes or a single opening node which later branches. These openings can be random or very controlled.


Many works use node paths to guide readers through the work:

Exercise: In Your Arms

Instructions: Build a hypertext (either with html, storyspace, flash, etc) that contains the following 12 nodes. At the beginning of the piece, let the reader choose from four distinct paths (Irene, John, Pam, or Prayers). At the end of each node, put a path for different stories. So as Irene starts with Time Bombs, the link from the beginning of Irene’s path would be Time Bombs. On the Time Bombs node, have a link from Irene’s path to Your Arms. When a path forks (allowing two choices), put the same next node on each. So on Irene’s path, the link on Explain 1 would go to Leaving and the link on Explain 2 would also go to Leaving. Note that each path uses the same nodes, so you will have to set up a distinct path for each section. (You could make this a consistent link from the path name, or have four different pictures that represent the path, etc.).


Irene: {Time Bombs}, {Your Arms}, {Silence}, {Entrance}, {EITHER Explain 1 or Explain 2} {Leaving}, {EITHER Shivering or Changing}

John: {Lullabies}, {Your Arms}, {EITHER Shivering or Soothing}, {Entrance}, {EITHER Changing or Leaving}

Pam: {Anger Unleashed}, {Your Arms} {EITHER Explain 1 or Explain 2}, {EITHER Leaving or Silence}

Prayers: {Litany}, {Your Arms}, {EITHER Soothing or Silence}

Time Bombs: Irene paced the floor, checking her gold Breitling watch every two minutes. 1:00. 1:02. And the slow nervous measurements of time mounted into the distances etched into her heart. She had trusted William implicitly. When he told her he had to go to Cozomel for the new real estate deal and had to work late alone, she believed him. And when he said he was only handling Lynette’s assets as a favor to a college friend, she believed him. But last night at Alience, when she saw him emerging from the back garden, and then when she saw Lynette smirking back to her table a few minutes later, she knew. And every cell in her body wanted to scream at him—

Lullabies: “Papa, when is Mama coming home?” John sighed again over Joey’s cry. They had gone over this time and time again. John had paid a child psychiatrist $300 just to tell him to repeat the same soothing words over and over again—like a lullaby until the child’s psyche is ready to let his mother go. John tightened his hands on Joey’s pillow and picked up his teddy bear from the floor. Any excuse not to look into Joey’s eyes. “She isn’t coming back, Joey. You know that. She died. She just wasn’t strong enough. You’ll see her in heaven.” Joey tugged at his father’s arm, shaking his head. “But, papa, no…” Joey started to protest again and again, repeating his cry—

Anger Unleashed: Pam slammed the door and marched into the house without waiting for Anne. She grabbed a beer and hurled herself down into the chair. Anne came in and tried to put her hand on Pam’s shoulder. Pam ground her cold beer into Anne’s hand until Anne moved silently away, tears pooling in her eyes. Anne asked in a strangled voice what was wrong. “You know damn well what’s wrong,” Pam growled—

Who is the Lady of Peace
Our Lady of Love
Our Lady of Sorrow
Who hears our sighs with the piercing of a bat’s cry?
Who dries our tears with the hem of her poverty?
Who comforts us when we can find no other comfort?
I know you know her.
I know you walk with her—

Your Arms: I saw her in your arms last night.

Silence: But no one was there to hear it.

Entrance: He came in.

Explain 1: I can explain everything. It was a dance. Only a dance.

Explain 2: I can explain everything. It was cold, and she was shivering. I put my arms around her only for a moment, to keep her there only for a moment.

Leaving: I am leaving in the morning.

Shivering: He couldn’t believe he heard the words, but they echoed within him like footsteps over his grave.

Changing: He held his child close, hugging the tiny form again and again, as if that could change everything that had happened last night.

Soothing: She soothed your brow, calmed your lips, and you knew.

Experiment: On Your Own

First do either the solitaire or team sport exercise under the links so that you have some content. You can use your own generated content or switch with someone else's work. When you have a piece to work with:


  1. List four different paths through the work.
  2. Mark these with different colored threads.
  3. Do the readings for your four different paths.

Team sports

  1. Title each node so that they are easy to chart.
  2. Each person has 15 minutes to chart a reading path through the work. What makes sense to you? What is it that you want the reader to know next?
  3. Write down your reading path by title of each node.
  4. Take turns explaining your paths.
  5. Talk about the different paths:

Exchange: Share Your Creations

Share your work in person
Take a few readers on a personal tour through different paths (have them read the same material twice or three times, but use different starting points and follow different connections). Ask your readers:

Share your work online


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