Friday, 16 March 2012

Writing Differently

I'm delighted to bring you a guest post from the lovely Caroline Smailes, author of 'Black Books' and 'In Search of Adams', amongst other brilliant but technically traditional novels. Today Caroline is looking at why, as a writer, she decided to "think outside the box" with her new book, '99 Reasons Why'. ‘99 Reasons Why’ is an experimental, ‘written for digital’, novel which hopes to challenge traditional storytelling by allowing the book’s ending to be decided by the reader.

As writers we reach a point in conventional storytelling where a number of potential endings could occur and, as a writer, we perhaps know which direction feels the most natural for the character to take. What I guess I’m saying is that there are a number of possible creative routes but we might lean towards one or two that we prefer. The choice we make, as writers, for the conclusion may even reflect our own moods, life experiences or the second-guessing of what we think our readers might want. We react, we make that important decision, depending on how strong we’re feeling at that particular day, hour or minute.

The difference in ’99 Reasons Why’ is that I’ve written out each of those potential conclusions; yes I have my own personal preference, but I’ve allowed myself to create ten other endings too. So, each reader will have the same core story, a traditional narrative, until they reach Reason 88, then the decision on which ending to pick will be made by the reader. This isn’t a 'Choose Your Own Adventure' style book, as some have suggested. This is about the reader taking responsibility for the ending they choose.



There are two versions of the book - an eBook version (a 'Vanilla' version, if you will) and the iBooks version. The simpler eBook edition, which will be available at all major eBook retailers, such as Amazon, relies on user-generated answers to three questions at Reason 88. These questions are entirely arbitrary and lead the reader to one of nine possible endings. The iBooks edition again takes the reader to Reason 88, but at this point there is the spinning of a wheel and that results in one of nine endings. The endings pull on different aspects of storytelling – a Scooby Doo ending, an Agatha Christie ending, a Brief Encounter ending (but without the train station). There’s a tenth ending that is being circulated around the Internet, via social media for the online launch of ’99 Reasons Why’ and an eleventh ending that only one reader will ever see. This ending will be handwritten and auctioned to raise money for charity.

I’ve seen much online criticism and opinion about my decision to write a reader-centric novel, saying that I’m lazy, that the responsibility for the ending should be mine and even that I don’t deserve to be taken seriously as a writer because I don’t offer only one ending. Yet my decision to write the novel stemmed from a passion for storytelling, experimental form and the exciting new technologies available to us as writers. Digital stories offer a new experience for the reader and as a naturally experimental writer I wanted to play with boundaries. I approached this project with the viewpoint of utilising the technology to show an alternative path to storytelling.

The eleven endings for ‘99 Reasons Why’ weren’t simply written quickly at the end, they were mapped out over a six month period as the story began to develop and are all intrinsically linked to the entire narrative. Just like when any writer creates any ending, there are clues layered throughout the story, it’s all about cohesion and trying to convince the reader that each of the endings could happen. The difference is that I had to do that eleven different times. This novel took so much longer than any of my others to write because of the endings, because I didn’t want it to be seen as a gimmick.

Like anything any author writes, I know that not everyone will like the interactive element or indeed the story that I have created, but that is the fantastic thing about the rich diversity that literature offers us. There is something for every reader because, thankfully, we’re not all creating the same stories. And I’m not at all saying that every novel should have multiple endings, my next novel has one. '99 Reasons Why’, quite simply, is an experimental novel where readers who choose to interact with the book are invited to participate in selecting their ending. Let’s not forget that the reader is still only getting one ending to the story, it just happens to be the ending that they choose and not one that I have chosen for them.


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Be sure to check the blog on Monday, when I'll be posting the final possible ending of Caroline's novel.

10 comments:

Zoƫ said...

Fascinating concept, and far from lazy (how writing eleven endings is lazier than writing one, I'll never know). I'd be very interested to read this, though I'd always be wondering what the other endings were.

Anonymous said...

Goosebumps book series already did this years ago. Part way through the book you make a decision, and depending on your decision you are told to go to a page and continue the story.

Julie said...

I love the idea of the 11th ending being auctioned off for charity. What a great idea! I, too, would want to read all the endings. Or would at least be curious about them. I think it's a great idea! It's different from other types of choose-your-own story/endings because I think since it's digital, you only get your one choice, right?

Anonymous said...

I would rather get all the endings so that I can have a new one in case I get an ending I don't like.

blishsmith said...

I was very encouraged to find this site. I wanted to thank you for this special read. I definitely savored every little bit of it.

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John Lucas Hargis said...

There is one thing I am not clear on.

Each reader only gets one ending? I am curious how this works...

Did I miss the part of the blog that would let me choose my own ending to the post--the one that explained this idea?

Anonymous said...

This really is a unique concept, and those that say it's just like Choose Your Own adventure are missing the point.
The way that i see it is more like an Xbox game like Fable, or Mass Effect, where the player's choices dictate how the game's story will play out. And I agree that once i read "my" ending i will be itching to find out what other ones I missed!
i do find it poor that in this modern world people still criticise artists for having the balls to try something new. Like Caroline says in her post, we (ie authors of the free world) are not writing the same story...

findingtimetowrite said...

I think it's a brilliant idea and can see how more interactive books will become prevalent in the digital age. I admire Caroline for having the courage to experiment with this.

Janet Rigg said...

Ahhhh, feeling slightly deflated at the moment. I've had an idea of a multiple ending book for some time, but being a novice writer, it is taking me some time to develop it. I'm almost finished the second draft.... Mine, tentatively titled "The Point of Choice" starts with one narrative which branches to three, and each then branches to two more 'endings'. It is hard to write, to still be a cohesive whole. The reader will have access to all of the endings and branches, allowing us to all answer the question 'what if?'

Imagine a movie version .... Works for DVD, but what about a theatre, where each audience member has a device that allows them to vote on the next point of choice .... Push the boundaries indeed ...

Look for my first final draft on Authonomy in the coming months ...

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