Talk on the interweb today about a new digital novel by Caroline Smailes. ’99 Reasons Why’ is a family drama about obsession, told in 99 short chapters. So far, so normal. But Caroline’s book comes with a sting in the tail: a choice of eleven alternative endings, which are influenced by the reader’s tastes and mood and on their answers to a series of multiple-choice questions on colours, numbers and objects.
Caroline came up with the idea when she learned that several readers were unhappy with the rather gloomy endings of her previous two books. Readers with a Kindle or other e-reader device are asked simple questions about their interpretations of the characters to determine the ending of the story. If they’re still not satisfied, they can answer the questions differently to get an alternative ending.
It’s a great idea that can work well in the digital world, but it’s not new. John Fowles wrote ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ with two endings, and ‘Hopscotch’, by Julio Cortazar has many different endings. But probably the most famous examples of the multiple endings story that involve the reader in the same way as Caroline Smailes are the ‘Choose your own Adventure’ from the 1980s and ‘Pretty Little Mistakes’ by Heather McElhatton, from 2007.
Choose Your Own Adventure is a series of children’s books where each story is written from the second person, ‘you’ point of view. The reader assumes the role of the protagonist and makes choices that determine the main character’s actions and the plot’s outcome
Pretty Little Mistakes is also written in the second person and allows the reader to direct the story to more than 150 possible endings. After an introduction to the story, the reader is asked to determine the protagonist’s next course of action and eventually to multiple possible endings.
Which all goes to show, there’s nothing new under the sun. But the new digital age makes this sort of engagement with the author far more relevant. Will there come a time when a reader will be able to collaborate with an author during the writing process, in order to produce the book the reader wants, rather than the one the author wants to write? I suppose that will depend on who’s paying……