Happy Ever After?

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……

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4 thoughts on “Happy Ever After?

  1. Hmmm, interesting concept. Although I always admire innovation, I’m not so sure this appeals to me. I guess I like the thought of reading the author’s preferred ending, whether I agree with it or not. Or maybe I’m just being lazy 🙂

  2. I agree with you. I read a book and accept the ending; even if I’m horrified by it, it’s what the author intended. I will always remember my sister, a late convert to reading for pleasure, being so upset by the ending of Tess of the D’Urbervilles that she almost gave up reading completely. But she never thought for a moment that Hardy should have given us a better, happier ending. She just accepted it.
    The cynic in me wonders if this multiple ending malarkey is just a ploy to get readers to pay a fee to get the ending of their choice. Is this the future?

  3. The electronic age brings so many new options to the table. How will we read books in 10 years? I can’t imagine all the options we might have. At least in my own writing, it seems like my endings don’t change much. Everything beforehand might, but that’s to get to the ending that stayed consistent in my head. I don’t know that I could offer different versions for people to choose from.

    Interesting post!

  4. It must be a relatively simple change each time, which won’t impact too much on the main storyline, otherwise how to offer many different endings without rewriting the story every time to foreshadow these possibilities? It boggles the mind:-)

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