A couple of years ago I wrote about the Choose Your Own Adventure books. In the books—for those not familiar with them—you read until you come to a decision point, which prompts you to flip to another page, backward or forward. They invite you into an exciting, dangerous world where you, the reader, had to make decisions that meant life or death. They were interactive fiction at its finest.
A recent post by Michael La Ronn, posted on Self Publishing Advice, reminded me of this. Michael wanted an interactive reading experience, but with grown-up characters and storytelling. Since he didn’t see a novel like this in the marketplace, he wrote one: How To Be Bad.
In his post, Michael describes what he did differently to overcome the older audiences’ reluctance to try out this genre. For example, he felt that older audiences dislike it because they view it as gimmicky—for good reason. They also resist the genre’s second person POV (point of view).
How to be bad
When Michael wrote “How to be bad,” he approached the genre differently. He eliminated false endings, second person POV, and shallow storylines. And he ditched print books altogether, formatting instead his book specifically for e-readers and tablets.
Here’s how he engaged his readers using the interactive medium:
- Reader immersion: Readers don’t just read an interactive novel; they participate. His novel is about a woman who accidentally makes a deal with a demon and must steal three innocent souls to break the contract. If she doesn’t, the demon will take the soul of the man she loves. She (i.e. the reader) has to make increasingly unethical decisions. When it’s over, the reader shares in her successes (and her failures).
- Enhanced storytelling: Michael describes his heroine as a darkened portrait. Every decision the reader makes illuminates a section of the portrait that another decision can’t. The reader doesn’t see the whole picture immediately, but when they do, it’s a complex image—one that grows richer with subsequent rereads.
- Built-in engagement: The heroine has several arcs, all equally viable and satisfying in their own right. Because of this, every reader experiences the story differently, and the novel becomes something different to each person. Combined with the ethical theme of the novel, this becomes a vehicle for discussion and encourages the reader to try another approach, much like a game would.
While Michael is not saying that interactive fiction should replace traditional fiction, they contrast with each other in interesting ways.
Crucially, he points out that self-published authors are in the best position of all to take advantage of this uncrowded genre because publishers haven’t caught on to its potential!