Words Academics Are Using To Describe Book Apps

Mostly from the papers:

Engineering stories? A narratological approach to children’s book apps

Multimedia book apps in a contemporary culture: commerce and innovation, continuity and rupture



Short for application software: Software designed to accomplish specific user tasks (in contrast to “system software”).


While e-books are single files that require specific software (e-reader software), apps (being software) run by themselves.

Multimodal Narrative

A digital story is defined as a ‘multimodal narrative’ text comprising  pictures, music, speech, sound and script.


Whereas books are ‘adapted’ for screen, books are ‘remediated’ as apps.


There are a number of different lists of qualities that make a book postmodern. It is thought that when a postmodern book is remediated as an app, the postmodern effects may be rendered null due to the change of medium. The following aspects of postmodernism may not work very well in apps because in order for postmodern techniques to work, the reader must remember they are reading a book:

  1. Indeterminacy: there are ambiguities because there is a lack of information or too much information
  2. Reverberation: the story echoes other stories or material. In its more extreme form the result is similar to a collage
  3. Short-circuit: happens when the narrative communication hierarchy is altered
  4. Play: if the important thing in the story is to enjoy the signifiers rather than the signified, or the work considers the reader as a player

Diegetic and Non-diegetic

These are film terms which are also useful for apps.

diegetic = part of the world of the story

non-diegetic = not part of the world of the story — obviously added in afterwards by the creator of the story

These terms are often used to describe sound:

diegetic sound = noises which would occur within the world of the story, such as music which is playing on a radio

non-diegetic sound = noises which have been edited in and would in no way be part of the setting, for example an orchestra of violins when a character cries.

These words are also often used to describe different sorts of narrators:

autodiegetic narrator = pertaining to a narrator who is also the protagonist

heterodiegetic narrator = of or relating to a narrator that does not take part in the plot

homodiegetic narrator = of or relating to the narrator of a dramatic work who is also the protagonist or other character in the work

Verbal, Visual, and Sonic signs

The analysis of book apps calls for a broad use of the term “text.” The text of an app as I understand it comprises its totality of verbal, visual, sonic, and interactive elements, or the “surface” of the app as distinguished from the underlying structure of the source code.


As defined by Aarseth: The cybertext is, literally, “a machine for the production of variety of expression”. Aarseth’s textonomy of the cybertext can only partially be applied to book apps. For example, the aspect of “transiency” (meaning that in a transient text “the mere passing of the user’s time causes scriptons to appear” (Aarseth 1997, 63)) is not very helpful since virtually all book apps for children are intransient text. If a book app is played in the “read-to-me” mode (the closest thing to a transient text I have encountered in a children’s book app), the reading can usually be stopped and modes switched.


The concept of cybertext is neither limited to nor does it include all kinds of literary texts published in the digital medium. Hypertexts, on the other hand, are a specific type of fiction within this medium that is distinguished by certain technical characteristics, that is, “a text that […] will ‘branch or perform on request’ (by links or other means)” (Wardrip-Fruin 2010, 40). Even a cursory glance at children’s book apps reveals that only a limited number of them fall into either category. Therefore, a different framework must be used to assess this kind of media.

Ergodic Literature

As defined by Aarseth: Cybertexts are part of “ergodic literature,” that is, literature in which “nontrivial effort is required to allow the reader to traverse the text”. The keyword in defining a text as ergodic is, of course, “nontrivial” which is vague enough. While swiping and tapping to navigate from one screen to another can clearly be defined as “trivial” (much like turning a page), gestures like tapping on a hotspot to trigger an animation should be regarded as alterations of the text, namely the story, and can thus not be qualified as trivial.


Rather than ‘readers’.

Co-author, Co-illustrator or Co-narrator

Words for ‘users’ when the apps require participation (or the illusion of participation) in order to complete the story.

Interactive engagement on a creative level is, indeed, what most apps promise but seldom offer in a meaningful way.


In contradistinction to ‘story’: Fabula refers to “a series of logically and chronologically related events that are caused or experienced by actors”—thus answering the question “what happens?”—the term story indicates “a fabula that is presented in a certain manner” (answering the question “how is it told?”) In other words: “discourse for the analysis of hypertexts”

multiple fabula apps = in which user follows the concepts of “creating your own story” or “choosing your own adventure.” This type of app is most strongly affiliated with gaming and role-playing, sometimes to the extent that border lines become blurred. users can determine (to a certain extent) what happens in the narration. To evaluate multiple fabula apps, it is useful to consider the actual purpose of this narrative device. Is it to create a random text out of random fragments or is it to encourage users to explore narrative modes ? Does it give the user the opportunity to alter the fabula to produce aesthetically satisfying narratives that have been noticeably affected by the user in a purposeful way? Is randomness the result of the app’s mechanization or an aesthetic failure?

contrasted with:

alternative story apps = Basically, all apps that offer some kind of tap-triggered dialogue, sound or animation fall into this category.

Speed, Order and Frequency

These categories are helpful when applied to hypertextual structures and further distinguish between empirical and computed behaviour or strategies.

For example, the computed minimum or maximum speed for progressing from one page to the other might substantially differ from the empirical speed of a specific user at one specific running of the app.

Vita activa and Vita passiva

Those who are active versus those who mindlessly consume.


Academics are distinguishing between the several possible meanings of the concept participation:

  1. conventional participation, such as letters decoding or the passing of pages or screens
  2. active participation, a complex interpretive demand related to a postmodern configuration of meanings
  3. interactive participation, or physical cooperation with the work

Simulative Participation

The user is given the illusion of doing something that actively moves the story along but in fact the user is not free but must adhere to the app programming.


A part of the screen which initiates an action when touched. The effect is said to be ‘tap-triggered’.

Degrees Of Interactivity

  1. selective participation, in which the user chooses among the options offered by the program
  2. transformative participation, in which the user selects and transforms the contents proposed by the author
  3. constructive participation, in which the user can select, transform and build new proposals that are not planned by the author

Forms In Which Interactivity Becomes a Part of the Story

  1. Real participation stands for an interactive proposal in which the action of the user works in a necessary cause–effect relationship with the story.
  2. Simulative participation occurs when the user’s action produces an effect in the story that would appear equally even if he or she did not trigger the hot spot.
  3. False participation refers to cases where the effect of the user’s action is repetitive or meaningless for the development of the story.

Conventional Interaction

Unsurprising interaction, given what has come before. For example, the book app works like a digital version of a book, complete with ‘page turns’.

User-Device Response Techniques

Describes the sort of interaction that happens between computer and user in games, but which is rarely seen in book apps. Book apps cannot offer the same narrative freedom of choice as role-play gaming where the user directs an avatar more or less freely through a virtual world.

  • character editing
  • various forms of multi-user experience which could be fruitfully applied to concepts of multiple fabula or alternative story apps to create alternative texts in interaction with other users.
  • the introduction of blanks, either literally in the interface as free space where the user can fill in words, drawings, or photos of their own choice or by using the possibilities of the device that allows users to make videos, take photos, or record their own words all of which can then be integrated into the app as forming part of the narrative.


Most often, two distinct things:

  1. learning to read and write
  2. such things as drawing conclusions, making associations and connecting text to reality

There is another kind of literacy required for reading digital stories: technical literacy—knowing how to progress through a story. A higher level of literacy again involves creating meaning, understanding and at the same time being critical. There is no evidence that literacy, in and of itself, leads to the cognitive functioning of, for example, logical, analytical, and critical thinking that the ‘literacy myth’ prescribes.