desktop version of cover, Frankenstein (Mary Shelley), dark mode edition

Frankenstein: or, Formatting a 200+ year old manuscript for the web

You can tell when you read old books that people used to have longer attention spans, and there was nary a screen to read from. Many of the paragraphs are very long, to the point where many pages look like walls of text.

Reading something displayed on a screen is very different from reading something printed on paper. A screen makes white by emitting a full spectrum of light, and a lot of it. If you’re like me and look at a screen all day, you know all too well what chronic eye strain feels like.

That’s the reason I’m using dark mode color schemes in my publications. Light gray text on a dark gray background noticeably reduces the amount of light emitted by your screen. And it reduces contrast, which, if too high, can also make your eyes work unnecessarily hard.

Here’s the difference:


screenshot of original text from Letter 1 of Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
Original HTML document in “plain vanilla ASCII”


screenshot of dark mode press edition of Frankenstein (Mary Shelley)
Dark mode, with no indents, shorter paragraphs and monospace font

There are many letters written by various characters. Some of them are their own chapters, but others are inside other chapters. So, to make it easier to tell the difference between letters and narrative while skimming, I’ve made them in a monospace font that looks kind of typewritery.

But the default paragraph text is Open Sans, beautiful and easy to read on a screen. The normal text looks like this:

screenshot of Chapter 1 of Frankenstein (Mary Shelley), dark mode press edition
Chapter 1, the dark mode way

Before I started breaking up paragraphs, I didn’t think about what to do about the long monologues that span multiple paragraphs, especially after I made even more paragraphs.

But I never liked the traditional way it’s handled, anyway — with opening quotation marks but no closing marks until the last paragraph. It’s clunky, and sometimes it’s still hard to know if the same person is still talking until you get to the end of each paragraph.

Plus, quotation marks are tiny, easy to miss, and it’s hard on your eyes to look for them in passages of text.

So I took them out. Instead, I’ve come up with two ways of visually signalling which paragraphs belong to the long dialogue spoken by a single character:

  1. If it’s just a few successive paragraphs in an otherwise normal passage of text, I format it as a blockquote. That’s the function of the blockquote, anyway. In some cases, I’ve had to excise dialogue markers out of the quotes and rework them into sentences outside the quote, but have rephrased as slightly as possible.
  2. In cases like chapters 11-16, which are told from the creature’s point of view (or Daemon, as I call him) I indicate this by using Noticia Text, a serif typeface I love for its supreme readability despite having serifs.
screenshot of blockquote in text, Frankenstein (Mary Shelley) dark mode edition
a blockquote indicating Daemon’s long response to Dr. Frankenstein’s threat
screenshot of Chapter 11 of Frankenstein (Mary Shelley), dark mode edition
The beginning of Daemon’s story, which spans six chapters

These formatting decisions have not been easy, and the solutions I made for this text may be improved upon as I gain experience with the peculiar challenges of reformatting old literature for screen reading.

I will mint this as an FT first so that I can make as many copies as I want and send them to the Alexandria library. But I also need to make a little something so I can keep doing this. So I will mint this also as an NFT with five or ten copies for sale.

The NFT version will contain the full size version of the cover art without the text, plus two or three variations on the cover that I didn’t use.

desktop version of cover, Frankenstein (Mary Shelley), dark mode edition
final version of cover for desktop and tablet

Something odd happened while I was making the cover art.

I started with the intent of drawing Daemon, the creature. I read Shelley’s physical description of him and noted how it differs from our cultural understanding that he’s supposed to be ugly in every way with green skin and scars illogically criss-crossing his face. And wooden pegs sticking out the sides of his neck despite the lack of clarity regarding their utility.

But Frankenstein’s intent was to make a beautiful creature.

His limbs were in proportion, and I had selected his features as beautiful. Beautiful! Great God! His yellow skin scarcely covered the work of muscles and arteries beneath; his hair was of a lustrous black, and flowing; his teeth of a pearly whiteness; but these luxuriances only formed a more horrid contrast with his watery eyes, that seemed almost of the same colour as the dun-white sockets in which they were set, his shrivelled complexion and straight black lips.

The more I drew, the more unsure I became whether I was drawing the creature or Dr. Frankenstein. This uncertainty, I know now, was the process of letting go of literal and cultural descriptions of his physical appearance and taking in more abstract definitions of beauty and ugliness from his own words.

No matter his physical appearance, he started life as a beautiful being who sought only human connection and experiences. He only became a monster after a solid pattern of abuse and the loss of any hope he could transcend it to live a life of peace.

And Dr. Frankenstein has a beautiful mind, but is a cowardly narcissist. How is he any better?

In the end, I knew I was portraying the creature. But he is handsome in an odd way that cuts against the grain of our cultural understanding of beauty. So I’m using the yellow eyes for clarity.

Like the Lorem Ipsum book I made recently, there are desktop and mobile versions of the cover. But I’m not happy yet with the mobile version, so it still needs work.

All of these formatting changes will be in my editor’s note for the book.

I’ve still not been able to find anyone else making this kind of NFT. It’s looking more and more like I’m the only one. And I still have no idea if it’s even possible to mint an HTML file as an NFT on any blockchain besides Cardano. (As of this writing, you can’t mint them on OpenSea on Ethereum, Objkt on Tezos, or SolSea on Solana.)

Maybe after I make a few more of these, someone else will like to try it and help me get the literary scene going here on Cardano.

Next in the line up at dark mode press: The Poems of Sappho. I read these for the first time a couple weeks ago, and let me just say …

… Fire! Not safe for work! Or the commute to and from work. Maybe not safe for the Alexandria library — I’ll have to ask Noodz first.

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