Reading a novel delivered in installments to your e-mail inbox is different from flipping through a book as you curl up in bed.

Animated hypertext poems that dance across your computer screen do a kind of storytelling different from poems that sit still on a page.

The reading experience is different for print versus digital, no doubt about that.

But what about the writing experience? Is literary writing for digital media different in a way that matters? This is a question I keep returning to as I interview a variety of digital writers for this column. Does good, old-fashioned storytelling really change just because it is distributed in new forms of media?

I asked Sue Thomas, professor of new media at De Montfort University in Leicester, England, what she thought. In conjunction with Kate Pullinger, author of the multimedia graphic novel Inanimate Alice, Thomas devised a master of arts program in creative writing and new media that is taught online.

"Good, old-fashioned storytelling was oral, and storytellers often changed their stories according to context and circumstance," Thomas said. "You only have to look at how simple fairy tales and urban legends evolve whilst still often keeping the core of the narrative intact to realize that they need a fluid environment to stay alive and fresh. Multimedia prevents the stagnation of fixed type and maintains a much longer tradition, stretching way back beyond the last 500 years."

As director of the digital media project at the Department of English at Ohio State University, Scott Lloyd DeWitt says he wants to "expand notions of literacy" rather than abandon print for something new.

"We are giving students the opportunity to produce a variety of digital media texts. Along the way, we ask them to think about the affordances of these media and make choices about using them according to their rhetorical goals: Who is your audience? What sense of ethos are you trying to establish? Where do you imagine this text appearing?"

In other words, the same questions writers have always asked.

Robert Coover, the T.B. Stowell Adjunct Professor of Literary Arts at Brown University, is a prominent novelist who realized in the late '80s that "the digital revolution was real and immediate; I wanted my students to be wholly aware of what was happening and comfortable with it."

Today he leads the groundbreaking Cave Writing Workshop, a spatial hypertext writing workshop in immersive virtual reality he dreamed up in 2002.

Electronic-writing workshops are in many ways similar to traditional writing workshops, Coover said: Students are given a project they present to the class for critique. But Cave Writing is unique. Powered by a high-performance parallel computer, the Cave is an eight-foot-square room with high-resolution stereo graphics shown on three walls and the floor. Students do not simply "write a story" - they create 360-degree multimedia projects incorporating images, sound, art and text. Imagine standing in the middle of this room as a multimedia narrative is projected all around you, and you've got the "immersive" part of the equation.

Coover, who wrote an essay titled "The End of Books" for the New York Times Book Review in 1992, says new literary forms don't emerge simply because the artist wants them to.

"Art forms are partly made by audiences," he said, "and if the reading public was in the process of moving from page to screen, then young writers had to understand that and know how to live and write in the new world. . . . E-writing is a very collaborative genre, often involving writers, artists, composers, and computer programmers."

That made me think that the image of the writer suffering over her masterpiece in solitude might soon become out of date - which wasn't a bad thought at all.

To experience "Inanimate Alice," go to

For more on Robert Coover's Cave Writing Workshops, go to


Katie Haegele ( is a writer who lives in Montgomery County. She just bought a pin from the independent publishing resource Fall of Autumn that says "My zine has a MySpace," because hers does.