The Choice is Yours

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Wouldn’t you just know it. You wait forever for an exciting interactive novel to come along, and two arrive in your inbox at once. It’s something I’ve been interested in since I wrote The Man Who Painted Agnieszka’s Shoes on a Facebook group, so I’m delighted to introduce two projects,Winston Emerson’s The Object and Josh Martin’s Run at Plot Hinge.

The two books are very different. Run is a thriller – a Harlan Coben-type everyman-in-peril story, absolutely tailor-made for cliffhanger-sparked interaction. In this case, as the project’s title, Plot Hinge, suggests, moments of choice come at crucial points. Only it’s not the audience who’s interacting with the story – it’s random events in the world – a bit like John Grisham meets The Dice Man. Here’s how Josh explains it – “at the end of each chapter the plot is left at a cliff hanger with the story able to go in a couple different directions. I then tell the readers something like: ‘If it’s a cloudy night in Toronto next Tuesday, then the guards won’t spot Jimmy trying to escape. But if it’s a clear night, Jimmy will be spotted and brought back to prison.’ I then write the following week’s chapter based on the outcome of that event.” This overcomes one of the real problems with interactive novels – getting people to interact! Reders are remarkably passive – even those brought up on the Fighting Fantasy books. So I’m particularly excited by how this will pan out.

Winston Emerson, on the other hand, is offering readers the chance to interact with the story at infrequent intervals (season finales as it were). He’s also creating an immersive atmosphere with music and art to get readers into the world of the story. And as a writer of exquisite literary fiction, although this has elements of SF, I’ll be very interested to see what kind of a world he creates. Here’s what Winston said when I asked him a few questions

1. Interactivity is incredibly difficult to achieve – readers love to be passive, to follow. How do hope to get around that?

Our goal is to make interactivity in reading The Object very simple and fun.  In the beginning, reader participation will be minimal: clicking PLAY on an embedded Soundcloud widget to start the musical score of the episode, answering a poll at the end of each episode regarding how the reader would like to see the story progress.  We’ll even have a Favorite Character poll on the homepage.  If Season One is a success, we’re hoping readers will become active in the forum and in sharing the story with others.  Of course, the most exciting interactive tool will be during the mid-season break, when readers are left with a cliffhanger and get to vote on the outcome, which will effect how the next episode plays out.

2. How do you think using other art forms enhances the written word?

When you read a book, everything is left to the imagination–I love that about reading.  Equally exciting, however, is when artists get together and present their interpretation of the written word.  Hamlet is one form of art; a theater group’s production of Hamlet is quite another.  I have a lot of experience collaborating with other artists.  For six years I wrote and helped produce plays for a local high school’s drama class.  I’ve also collaborated with other writers on short stories.  The Object’s artist, Justin Comley, and musician, Matthew Stillwell, I’ve known for many years and have worked with several times.  Justin did the book cover for my novel, A Circle in the Woods, which is currently under consideration by HarperCollinsUK, and Matt and I once started a band, though his musical abilities make me look like a fool.

3. How do you balance the need for strong storytelling with the enhanced elements of what you’re planning to do? Are you worried your focus will be pulled too many ways?

Not at all.  For me personally, writing The Object is no different from writing any other novel.  I don’t think about how it will fit with the overall project; I just focus on the story and leave the musical and artistic interpretation to Matt and Justin.  And so far, the results are pretty exciting.

4. To what extent do you think technology offers writers the chance to do something really new, and to what extent do you think it’s a red herring that’s nothing more than repackaging?

Without the technological advancements of the internet, The Object simply wouldn’t exist.  The internet provides the medium to tell the story and also allows artistic collaboration between people who are separated by physical distance.  Matt, Justin, and I live in different towns.  While we meet up on occasion, most of our communication is done via Facebook and email.  We rely on technology to make The Object happen, and it’s not just the internet.  Matt has built a professional recording studio in his home from scratch, and Justin is able to produce high-quality illustrations on a digital sketchpad.  Twenty years ago, these things simply weren’t available to the average Joe the way they are now.

And we’re looking for more participants.  Particularly, we’d like to work with someone skilled in animation and video editing for the purposes of creating funny ads to run on YouTube, and possibly to do an animated version of each episode.

5. What excites you in the literary world at the moment?

eReaders.  Hands down.  The Kindle and Nook have opened the door for self-publishing to be free and efficient for writers.  When Season One of The Object concludes, we plan to self-publish it as an illustrated novel and make it available both in digital and print form.  I’ve just broken into the self-publishing world with my novel The Drought, and a small collection of short works entitled The End of the Party: Three Stories and a Poem, both of which are now available on the Amazon Kindle.  For anyone interested in reading The Object, you can get an idea of my writing style by checking out either of these two books:

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One Response to The Choice is Yours

  1. The Object had a very successful first week! Episode Two will be available tomorrow at 8pm EST.

    Thanks again for this post. =)

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