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alice bell

Prof Alice Bell

Professor of English Language and Literature


My research specialisms are stylistics/literary-linguistics (including empirical research), narratology, and digital fiction. Throughout my work I develop systematic approaches for the analysis of (mostly digital) texts, examine interactivity and immersion in digital literary environments, consider how digital technologies affect fiction and fictionality, and investigate how readers cognitively process digital fiction.

My teaching reflects my research interests and I teach on a range of modules and supervise postgraduate students across the English programme.

  • About

    I am a literary-linguist and a narratologist which means I am interested in how language and narrative structure works in literature. My research focusses in particular on born digital fiction which is fiction that is written for and read from a computer and includes hypertext fiction, narratively-driven videogames, app-fiction for mobile devices, augmented reality fiction, and Virtual Reality fiction. I research interactivity and immersion in digital fiction and also the way that digital technology can play with the boundary between reality and fiction. I have published research on possible worlds theory, unnatural narratology, metalepsis, second-person narrative, fictionality, and "post postmodern" narrative. I recently co-edited (with Marie-Laure Ryan) Possible Worlds Theory and Contemporary Narratology (University of Nebraska Press, 2019) and am co-editing (with Jan Alber, Aachen) a special issue of the European Journal of English Studies on fact and fiction in post-postmodern narrative.

    I also do empirical research, creating reader response methodologies and testing and developing existing theory. I have undertaken several reader-response studies, collecting data from readers in order to understand how digital literary reading works cognitively. This includes studies on immersion, ontological ambiguity, second-person narrative, and hyperlinks. Much of this work has been carried out as part of the AHRC-funded Reading Digital Fiction project which I led from 2014-2017 (collaborating with Astrid Ensslin, Alberta and Lyle Skains, Bangor). The project combined research on narrative theory, cognitive poetics, and empirical methods and also delivered an extensive programme of public engagement activities.

    I am currently collaborating with One-to-One Development Trust on the Digital Fiction Curios project which aims to preserve works of digital fiction produced in Flash which will become technologically obsolete once Flash is removed from web browsers in 2020. I am also co-writing a monograph with Astrid Ensslin entitled Unnatural Narrative and Digital Fiction (University of Nebraska Press).

    Previous research projects include:

    Reading Digital Fiction (2014-2017) funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. 

    WALLPAPER funded by Sheffield Hallam University and Arts Council, England.

    Keywords: stylistics, literary-linguistic, narrative theory, digital literature, digital fiction, possible worlds theory, fictionality, ontology, empirical, reader response

  • Teaching

    Department of Humanities

    Social Sciences and Humanities


    BA English, BA English Literature, BA English Language, MA by Research

    I teach across the English programme on modules including:

    • Reading and the Mind
    • Language and Style
    • Experimental Writing
    • Digital Communication
    • Describing Language
    • Language Dissertation
  • Research

    • Humanities Research Centre

    External Funding:

    June 2014: £243,159 from AHRC Research Grant scheme as PI for ‘Reading Digital Fiction’. Co-I: Prof Astrid Ensslin, Bangor (Ref: AH/K004174/1)

    May 2010: £740 from the British Academy Small Research Grant scheme as PI for 'Metalepsis and Unnatural Narratology' with Dr Jan Alber (Univ. of Freiburg) (Ref: SG100637).

    March 2008: £15,500 from The Leverhulme Trust Academic Collaboration scheme as PI for ‘Digital Fiction International Network’. CI: Prof Astrid Ensslin, Bangor (Ref: F/00455/E).

  • Publications

    Journal articles

    Bell, A., & Alber, J. (2012). Ontological Metalepsis and Unnatural Narratology. Journal of Narrative Theory, 42 (2), 166-192.

    Ensslin, A., & Bell, A. (2007). New perspectives on digital literature: criticism and analysis. dichtung-digital.

    Book chapters

    Bell, A. (2014). Media-specific metalepsis in 10:01. In Bell, A., Ensslin, A., & Rustad, H.K. (Eds.) Analyzing digital fiction (pp. 21-38). New York: Routledge: .

    Bell, A., Ensslin, A., & Rustad, H. (2014). From theorizing to analyzing digital fiction. In Bell, A., Ensslin, A., & Rustad, H.K. (Eds.) Analyzing digital fiction (pp. 3-17). New York: Routledge: .

    Bell, A. (2013). Unnatural narration in hypertext fiction. In Alber, J., Skov Neilson, H., & Richardson, B. (Eds.) A poetics of unnatural narrative (pp. 185-198). Ohio State University Press

    Bell, A. (2011). Ontological boundaries and conceptual leaps : the significance of possible worlds for hypertext fiction (and beyond). In Page, R., & Thomas, B. (Eds.) New narratives : stories and storytelling in the digital age (pp. 63-82). University of Nebraska Press


    Bell, A. (2010). The possible worlds of hypertext fiction. Palgrave Macmillan

    Bell, A., Browse, S., Gibbons, A., & Peplow, D. (Eds.). (n.d.). Style and Response: Minds, Media, Methods. John Benjamins

  • Other activities

    I am a member of the AHRC peer review college and co-editor of the Cambridge University Press Elements Series on Digital Fictions.

    I am Head of the Stylistics Research Group here at Sheffield Hallam University.

  • Postgraduate supervision

    I welcome applications from research students interested in studying in the fields of cognitive poetics and stylistics, narratology/narrative theory, digital fiction (including videogames), contemporary fiction, experimental writing, reader response research, and empirical methods.

    I have supervised the following postgraduate research projects:

    • Alternate Realities: Possible Worlds Theory and Counterfactual Historical Fiction
    • Drawing out Language: The Destabilisation of Information Overload through Conceptual Writing
    • A Study into How Contemporary Print Fiction Remediates Digital Writing
    • ‘Digesting Creepypasta’: A Genre Analysis of Social Media Horror Fiction
    • The Archival Turn in American Multimodal Print and Digital Literature

  • Media

    Alice is interested in how digital technology can enhance and evolve literature. She studies literature written specifically for digital media, which often combine text with images, film, and sound. As a literary-linguist, Alice is interested in how language works in digital fiction. She is also interested in how readers process these texts cognitively.

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