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What’s an Interactive Novel?

As more and more people post fiction on the web, the terminology is burgeoning. Interactive novel, interactive fiction, text adventure, online fiction, web novel, web fiction, webisodics, webserial, electronic fiction, hypertext fiction, transmedia storytelling, blogfic, blovel, wovel — the list goes on. On closer inspection, though, digital literary forms divide into four main types.

Regular fiction online

The most common sort of online fiction is just like conventional fiction, only published in electrons instead of ink. Some of this writing is serialized, in the way that magazines and newspapers used to serialize fiction in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries — a new installment every week or so. Some writers serialize their fiction in blog novels, or blovels. Some make use of podcasts to add an audio element. You can add video or supplement the story with video or other texts, creating what’s called a transmedia story. Others have serialized through Facebook and even Twitter. In general, these writers follow conventional literary forms — a single writer controls everything about the readers’ experience. In my novel, I wanted to get the readers more involved.

Games

Online fiction can take the form of computer games. In some, readers work their way through a decision tree to one of several possible endings. In others, readers use links to skip from one section to another in whatever order they choose, dispensing with the notion of plot.

The creators of this genre have claimed the term “interactive fiction” for their own. (Some would probably feel that the term “interactive novel” should only apply to these games as well, but I like it too much to stop applying it to the blogs on this site.) A subgenre is the text adventure in which readers type phrases in response to text prompts. For examples, see The Interactive Fiction Competition.

For these gamers, the term “interactive novel” probably conjures up just such a format. I’m using it to apply to something different — a novel in which readers can converse with the main character as the novel progresses. They can affect, but not control, the course of the story.

Collaborative fiction

The internet also facilitates collaborations in which writers take turns contributing chunks of text. In some, readers can vote on which sentence should go next in the story, as they did in a Facebook game called Livebook. The Wovel, a term coined by Underland Press (from web novel), combines elements of interactive and collaborative fiction; authors write short episodes ending in “plot branch points,” and readers vote on what should happen. It’s fun to collaborate this way, but I wanted to maintain final control over the story, not least because it is linked to another book I’ve written in the conventional way.

Interactive Novels

On this site, the characters write blogs, and readers can comment. I wanted to create a fully realized fictional world that the readers could influence but not destroy. I’m not the first person to think of this. In the early days of the internet, a screen writer came up with a similar idea, attracted big investors and hired a cast of writers and models for a creation they called The Spot. The characters all wrote journals (the term “blog” had not been invented), and readers could comment and offer advice. Like a lot of early dot.coms, the venture expanded fast and crashed even faster, but its initial success illustrates the potential of this form of writing. I might feel obligated to apply the term used at the time, webisodic, to my novel, but it is now being used to refer to something completely different: television programs that exist only on the web. And now a new term has emerged, blog fiction, or blogfic, which could be applied to what I’m writing. Finally there are character blogs, a term used for blogs written in the names of fictional characters from a comic book or TV show. But these generally don’t tell their own stories in the way the ones on this site do.

Still the term I like best is interactive novel. I think it sums Adrienne’s Blog up well: a novel with which you can interact.

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