What an ELM Is

Dana W. Paxson
© Dana W. Paxson 2008

ELM: The Electronic Literary Macramé

What Is an ELM? (Besides a Tree)

  1. An electronic literary macramé (ELM) is a rich, immersive reading experience
  2. The ELM amplifies its content for the reader
  3. The ELM combines literary tapestry, Web page, and book in one easy-to-read work

Who Cares About ELMs?

  1. Writers get a new tool of expression
  2. Editors get a new means of organizing works
  3. Readers get a new form of presentation
  4. Publishers get new markets
  5. Old works get new treatments

Forms of Presentation

  1. Like reading "on steroids"
  2. Tie-ins
  3. Games
  4. Films
  5. Products
  6. Access to the living work
  7. Drafts
  8. Notes

The Best Computational Equipment Available

The Most Versatile, Powerful Software Available

  1. "riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore and bend of bay brings us by a commodious vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and environs"
  2. "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this son of York"
  3. "Aujourd’hui, maman est morte. Ou peut-être hier, je ne sais pas."


  1. Nothing replaces the human mind.
  2. Nothing replaces language.
  3. Why not serve them as well as we can?
  4. Why not amplify their power?
  5. That’s what the ELM is supposed to do.

Six Blind Men and the ELM: How Is an ELM Different?

  1. From a story or set of stories?
  2. From a textbook with links?
  3. From a bunch of Web pages?
  4. From any hypertext book?
  5. From a software program?
  6. From a literary tapestry?

…From a Story or Set of Stories?

  1. Multiple immediate linkages of scene threads
  2. Intense linkage to glossary entries
  3. Instant linkage to references
  4. Instant linkage to other sites
  5. No page-flipping or marking

…From a Textbook With Links?

  1. Multiple immediate linkages of thematic threads
  2. Intense linkage to glossary entries
  3. Instant linkage to references
  4. Instant linkage to errata, authors
  5. Instant linkage to other sites
  6. No page-flipping or marking

…From a Bunch of Web Pages?

  1. Immersive reading experience
  2. Plain, non-distracting appearance
  3. Very-limited use of browser gimmicks
  4. Purpose-driven work

…From Any Hypertext Book Made of Linked Web Pages?

  1. Immersive reading experience
  2. Plain, non-distracting appearance
  3. Very-limited use of browser gimmicks
  4. Focuses reader on content, not presentation

…From a Software Program?

  1. Direct literary and educational value
  2. Effects on reader are those of a written work
  3. Rooted in enduring text, not shifting media

…From a Literary Tapestry?

  1. The ELM is electronic
  2. The ELM is intensely linked
  3. The ELM is consistent in presentation
  4. The ELM is immediate

Making ELMs Pay (ELMs Are Not Just Firewood!)

  1. Markets are Numerous
  2. Markets are Tied to Devices
  3. Markets and Evolving Payment Technology
  4. Markets and Proper DRM
  5. Markets Tie to Related Products
  6. Markets Happen Fast
  7. Markets Mine the Backlist

Markets Are Numerous

  1. Large-scale fiction
  2. Biography
  3. History
  4. Textbooks
  5. Literature
  6. Mathematics and science
  7. Others

Markets Are Tied to Devices

  1. Handhelds – millions of browsers in the field
  2. Laptops – millions of browsers in the field
  3. PDAs – millions of browsers in the field
  4. E-readers – fewer, nonstandard, and not fully-purposed

Markets and Evolving Payment Technology

  1. Micropayments
  2. Subscriptions
  3. Giveaways plus purchases
  4. Teaser downloads
  5. Donate the work, charge for the features

Markets and Proper DRM

  1. Copyrights and the Web
  2. Copies that promote
  3. Watching a work in progress
  4. Tracking copies via Website accesses

Tying-in to Related Products

  1. MMORPGs
  2. Academic Websites
  3. Individual Games
  4. Novelizations
  5. Art works
  6. Cinema and Music

Markets Happen Fast

  1. Viral marketing
  2. Suspense spreads interest
  3. Weblinks enable news
  4. New combos: handhelds and readable text
  5. Vacuums in technology
  6. Opening and closing windows

Mining the Backlist

  1. Resurrecting classics
  2. Interlinking parts of a series
  3. Profit from authors' notes and research
  4. Relief for unprofitable print runs
  5. New tie-ins of old works

The ELM’s Pages and Their Contents

To see what an ELM looks like, take a look at DESCENDING ROAD. The primary page is the biggest one, in the middle.

  1. The primary page and its contents
  2. The glossary page and its contents
  3. The reference page and its contents
  4. Combinations of local and server components

Combinations of Local and Server Components

  1. The Local ELM: a reader’s purchase
  2. The Served ELM: the owner’s lease
  3. The Hybrid ELM: a partnership between reader and owner

Reading an ELM

  1. Navigation among the pages
  2. Immersive reading
  3. Immersive browsing
  4. Following threads
  5. Connecting to updates
  6. Connecting to authors

Navigation Among the Pages

  1. Thread links: following a narrative
  2. Glossary links: amplifying meaning
  3. Reference links: enriching the environment
  4. Customized links: crafting the reading experience

Following Threads

  1. Author’s Main Narrative Thread
  2. Point-of-View Narrative Thread
  3. Character Presence Narrative Thread
  4. Thematic Narrative Thread
  5. Temporal Thread
  6. Keyed Thread

Growing an ELM

  1. The source works
  2. Converting source works into units ('scenes')
  3. Distilling reference works
  4. Populating the ELM database
  5. Using linking rules for scenes
  6. Compiling
  7. Packaging for display
  8. Presentation to the reader

The Source Works

  1. Author manuscripts
  2. Author text files
  3. Author electronic files
  4. Publisher electronic files
  5. Word-processor
  6. E-Publishing forms
  7. Typesetting

Converting Source Works Into Scene Units

  1. Dividing the work
  2. Defining size of a scene
  3. Finding terms for glossing (using spellcheckers, scans, and more)
  4. Developing and using word processing macros
  5. Marking special passages

Distilling Reference Works

  1. Creating articles
  2. Converting source materials
  3. Building a glossary
  4. Linking to other works
  5. Linking to other sites

Populating the ELM Database

  1. Loading scene data
  2. Loading the character matrix
  3. Loading glossary entries
  4. Loading reference entries
  5. Threading scenes
  6. Main narrative
  7. Secondary narratives

Using Linking Rules for Scenes

  1. Primary sequence
  2. Scene entry order
  3. Story chronology
  4. Keywords and themes
  5. POV sequences
  6. Presence sequences

Compiling an ELM

  1. Enriching the ELM database
  2. Running VBA to produce scripts and script data files
  3. Running scripts using Cygwin and other *nix-like environments
  4. Customizing the compilation outputs

Packaging for Display

  1. Folders
  2. HTML
  3. Javascript
  4. Server Content
  5. Other Implementations

Presentation to the Reader

  1. Web pages
  2. Device screens
  3. Navigation
  4. Site access
  5. Media enhancements
  6. Audio
  7. Images and animation

Care and Feeding of an ELM

  1. Updates and new releases: the electronic Charles Dickens
  2. New scenes
  3. New references
  4. Glossary updates
  5. Spreading the ELM's branches

The Electronic Charles Dickens

  1. Updates and new releases
  2. Serialization
  3. Publishing on the fly
  4. Revision
  5. Speculation
  6. Suspense

New Scenes

  1. Extending a thread
  2. Adding a thread
  3. Branching from a scene: the list of links

New References

  1. Supplementary material
  2. Culture
  3. Games
  4. Music & video
  5. Links to the outside

Glossary Updates

  1. Language invention
  2. Recompiling the ELM
  3. Redistributing the ELM

Spreading the ELM's Branches

  1. Tying in multiple ELMs
  2. Authors' notes
  3. Shared authorship
  4. Spinoffs and links

ELMs in the Forest: The Assaults of Technology

  1. Digital photography and Kodak
  2. Copiers and Xerox
  3. The Web and Microsoft
  4. Electronic literature and the publishers

ELMs Walking

  1. Market explosion: when cost curves, demand, and price points fit together
  2. Riding the technological cost curve: flash memory, handhelds, and more
  3. Demand drivers: the young and the bored
  4. Who the players will be
  5. It's 'when', not 'if'!

Market Explosion

  1. It’s too expensive to build (until it isn’t)
  2. They’re too poor to buy it (until they aren’t)
  3. It’s too difficult to implement (until someone does it)
  4. They’re too resistant to new products (until the whining and screaming get too loud)

Who Will Be the Real Players?

  1. The Software Makers?
  2. The Publishers?
  3. The Authors?
  4. The E-Zines?
  5. The Hardware Builders?
  6. The ‘Dis-inter-mediators’?
  7. The Kids, Hackers, Amateurs?

To Main Page