When people harp on to me about the smell of a book I have to say I’m fairly dismissive. I mean come on, when was the last time you saw someone on the train taking a good whiff of a book as if it were a bunch of pungent flowers? I pick a book up because of the content, the author and yes, the pretty front covers. I pick it up because I know it’s going to take me somewhere new, and if I’m lucky, the author is going to have a little play with their words and format. Digital will work just as well for this as any musty book that makes you cough if you sniff a little too hard. The digital era is allowing us to do so many things with the written word, creating new forms and genres. It also has the capacity to bring an old art form back from the literary dead, such as the Choose Your Own Adventure, which I spoke about in my last post. Let’s face it, we’re never going to see the Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) back in print, but digital has allowed us to resurrect this childhood memory, and the writing skills that were lost with it.
It may surprise you to hear me talk about writing skills and CYOA in the same sentence. Perhaps you believe that CYOA is just a form of fan fiction gone mad, requiring no writing skills other than to be able to string words together. However, the truth of the matter is, writing a CYOA is not as easy as you might think. Creating multiple endings is exceptionally difficult, for as writers we rarely contemplate two or three endings let alone the eight endings I wrote in my Victoria Square Invasion. And you just can’t make the endings subtly different (what I would term a creative cop-out), because why would your reader bother to choose their own adventure when their choice is no choice at all? Also, when you’re doing a physical CYOA you can’t just make up the location details and props as you would a book; they have to have some basis in the reality that surrounds the participant/reader.
In the end, when our creativity failed us, the locations of Adelaide kick started our brains. We had to start digging into quirks of Adelaide, the locations where interesting features had gone unnoticed by the normal pedestrians. What was it about the location that could set the scene? What might happen in the story to bring the reader’s attention to this feature? Did the location itself have an atmosphere that could be played on? Was it close enough to the previous location to stop our readers wearing holes in their shoes? We also had to consider whether we were going to make the endings wins, loses, or partial wins. Making a person walk from one side of the city to the other and then having them die, may see your project unattended the next year. Like in all writing, reader satisfaction is key.
In a way, these restrictions were a godsend, because they got us out of our writing comfort zone - out of our writing fat pants and into the sweat pants. Elements that I would never have added normally were incorporated because of their unusualness rather than being dismissed as too unwieldy. In the long run it made the whole experience and the adventure itself, unexpected and more interesting, because these things were there, the reader could see them, and it made the science fiction component more believable.
Now, I can apply this skill to my normal novel writing. So rather than ending with the easiest and obvious path, I can contemplate ends that are vastly different and, in many ways, more satisfying. John Cleese, in his wonderful address on creativity would say that I am allowing myself to ‘play’ more. To root around for the right answer rather than the noticeable one. To give a contemporary example, I would point to Suzanne Collins who wrote the Hunger Games. Though I didn’t like the way the series ended, I knew it was the right ending. It’s an invaluable skill to have and one I would never have thought I needed before I embarked on this project. I’ve always been a ‘this idea WILL work’ kind of girl. Now I have a story that involves shrinking aliens in water, four statues and a Post Office façade of a unicorn coming to life and battling a spaceship, and a choir of rather dirty angels bringing down God’s wrath on alien invaders. Adelaide has never seen so much drama.
Adelaide: Choose Your Own Adventure is on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/AdelaideAdventure). Emily is an emerging author of fantasy and YA fiction. In 2011-2012 she undertook a 12 month writing mentorship with Isobelle, for her manuscript Priori-The Power Within. You can read about her mentorship experience and the lessons she learnt at http://theoriginalfantasy.blogspot.com.au or connect with her on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/ebookrevolution. Emily is super keen to write the next adventure, so if you want your city to become its own story, get in touch.