On Interactive and Enhanced Fiction

I’ve been reading a lot of articles lately about interactive and enhanced fiction, how hard it is, how it’s reaching critical mass, how to rewire fiction and I am finding the commentary really interesting to follow. Despite my ongoing lack of iPad and my major project being a direct print response to digital in publishing, I am incredibly interested in these products and the struggles faced by the publishers who create them, as well as the opportunities they present.

I recently watched Neil Gaiman’s keynote speech (video below) from the Digital Minds Conference at the London Book Fair (which has provided me with a wonderful quotation for my major project report). It detailed the possibilities created by combining social media and digital publishing with the brilliant example of the A Calendar of Tales project, which culminated in an absolutely beautiful website with the author line ‘by Neil Gaiman & You’. It epitomises something which I think is really important in this new and very digital age: reader involvement, collaboration, community.

The project started on Twitter with Gaiman posting prompts and his followers responding. The responses led to stories which led to art. The Calendar created a community of artists and readers all driven by the concept of creating something. While this is not interactive in the same way as the products referenced in the articles I have been reading it was still an interactive experience – not an interactive reading experience but rather an interactive writing experience.

Another interactive writing experience, which I have mentioned briefly before, is Hot Key Books’ Story Adventure in which children were able to help write a book, with prompts and challenges. The idea proved really popular with schools across the country taking part. Both projects show the importance of reader involvement and not only that but show that the reading community whether children, adults, young adults or otherwise, love getting their teeth into the publishing process in whatever form it may take. Digital media makes this possible and even though I am still addicted to the printed book this can only be a good thing.

Perhaps the future of interactive fiction is not down the ‘choose your own adventure’ vein (though I have been thoroughly enjoying the Black Crown project) but rather in collaboration and community experience.

In this discussion of interactive fiction, I have not factored in enhanced fiction (which is also sometimes termed as interactive) with videos and audio and images. This, to me, is whole different world of digital media; its aims are different. The interactive fiction I have addressed above is all about the creative experience whereas enhanced fiction aims at creating an innovative and interesting reading experience. Black Crown is very game-like in its interactivity (there is a game developed by some of the Black Crown collaborators, Story Nexus, which works in exactly the same way) and in some ways it defies definition. Interestingly, these, like A Calendar of Tales, employ Twitter with the ability to tweet what you find as you move through the experience.

The cross-purposing of the term ‘interactive fiction’ is undeniably confusing so for the purposes of this and future entries, I am going to define my terms (as I, perhaps, should have done earlier):

  • Interactive Fiction: Fiction which is created by interacting with its audience or fiction where the outcome is dictated by choices made by its audience; in which the audience has the power to change the fiction with their interaction.
  • Enhanced Fiction: Fiction with added extras such as videos and audio (these can either be used to tell the story like The Numinous Place or simply add to the experience of the writing).

Enhanced fiction is not about the community, enhanced fiction is a singular experience and while it can be shared it can also be awkward to share (not unlike having someone read over your shoulder). Enhanced fiction is only just beginning.

As I have said, I am addicted to print but that does not mean I am against ebooks (in fact, I really enjoy creating them and having a career in ebooks would be brilliant). If I had to choose between a normal ebook (with nothing other than the text) and a print book I would buy the print but if I had an iPad (when I have an iPad) and was presented with the option to buy an enhanced version I would definitely buy both.

I adore Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner, Maggot Moon is a brilliant book and one which I could read over and over. It is a book which, when I finally acquire my iPad, will be one of the first things I purchase in enhanced, multi-touch form (along with Hot Key’s other digital innovations). There is a lot of selling power in enhanced fiction.

Towards the beginning of this entry I wrote that reader involvement is incredibly important in this new digital age, especially true of interactive fiction but also true of enhanced. Enhanced fiction is a great way of getting readers involved without asking anything of them; they do not have to participate but they are able to become immersed in the story in a greater way than if they were just reading it. Videos, audio and images help to cement the story in the mind of the reader. You can hear it, you can see it. That is reader involvement.

I am incredibly excited about the future of fiction as the digital experience develops, I am excited for readers, publishers and authors alike. I want to be involved. It may be hard and there may be naysayers but it’s an experience too important to miss. Digital is important. Digital is incredible.

Advertisements

Transmedia: Harry Potter and Wonderbook

Children’s, how I love thee.

Oxford Brookes University was involved in the creation of the Wonderbook technology, specifically the skin recognition software or coding, I’m not quite sure, used in J.K. Rowling’s Book of Spells.

Today, we of Children’s Publishing hopped on a shiny, blue U1 bus and land-rocketed off through the winding countryside to Wheatley campus to view a demonstration and have a go on the game ourselves. (I say ourselves, I didn’t play but instead sat in the audience quietly squirming and working up the courage to inform the room that it was, in fact, the move button that has to be held down when casting a spell.) Hilarity ensued as the game was experienced for the first time and ‘Wingardium Leviosa’ was yelled enthusiastically at the screen.

This may not sound like much of an academic experience. Can it be that you can have fun while learning? Surely not, I hear you mutter. Welcome to the world of Children’s, where the lessons are fun and sometimes involve all-new technology! Once we were done with the demonstration we discussed Harry Potter and its vast storyscape. Before we began the discussion, I’m not sure any of us realised quite how big the franchise was and how much it relied on transmedia.

For those who may not be quite so publishing-savvy transmedia storytelling is a way of telling a story across multiple medias or platforms. A book may be coupled with video content, or expanded with a video game. Each different media is not retelling any part of the story but instead adding more depth and continuing the story. Book of Spells, for example, does not follow Harry and his companions but instead places the player in that world and expands on the overall mythology of the series.

I found this idea fascinating, the whole concept of transmedia demands to be explored and is something I would much like to look into (or even work with) further. I would like to know the limitations of this approach to storytelling, in theory there aren’t any but without researching this I can’t say for certain. That said, I am not sure how much I engage with transmedia on the user end of the spectrum. When I read, I do just that: read. If I am taken with the story, once I am finished, I will bound over to tumblr and search the tags for interesting tidbits like fan-made graphics but this isn’t transmedia. This is ‘fanmedia’ – a term which I may have made up.

When I read The Hunger Games and then watched the film, I flocked over to the website to find out which district I would belong to (I got my Panem ID) and I read all of the fictitious news bulletins – I did this because I knew they were there. I had seen it, again, on tumblr and decided to give it a go but I wouldn’t’ve gone looking for it otherwise.

I’m going to make an effort to seek out transmedia more, I might write more about my findings here. A project, perhaps.

Books on the Big Screen and going Beyond the Book

I think it’s hard to have a publishing-related blog this week and not write about the Random Penguin in its Penguin House but this is all I will say on the matter (Random Penguins need quiet nights in too especially with such big decisions to make! We will interrupt his evening in the future, next week perhaps). Speaking of quiet nights in, I am currently curled up on my sofa with a bowl of cereal watching Stardust, a lovely evening after a day of scanning and research and Turpin forms and proofreading at Berghahn Books.

The thing about film adaptations is that most people don’t like them. Of course, I am generalising but it seems to be a given that if a book is adapted for the screen a lot of people won’t like it and a lot of people will complain until they’re red in the face about how the conversion from book to film has ruined their darling and the best/most important parts have been cut out.

There is no way of keeping all of the fans happy but there is no denying that book-films bring more fans to their authors. More people will read the book after seeing the film. Personally, I love it when books I enjoy are turned into films and in a lot of cases, when I discover a book-movie I will then read the book it is derived from even if it’s not something I would normally read. I like playing ‘spot the difference’. There are very few I have disliked, even those that bend the story of their book to breaking point.

Some call this blasphemy, I call it perspective. I never watch a film with the expectation that it will be like the book, it would only end in disappointment. Films cannot be like their page-filled counterparts; there are some things in books that cannot be done in films and there are some things that simply don’t work on the big screen. Books can hold a lot more meat so, of course, things will be cut – and that is okay. There is no one universal way to interpret a book so the film will never be as you imagined.

There is one film, the one I am currently watching, which I think sticks incredibly well to the story of the book. Things have been changed, they had to be. If I remember correctly, the book is a shade darker than the film (which was aimed at a PG-13 audience) but the transition seems to fit. They have masked the darker parts with humour – some of them, anyway. It has a special place in my heart, it’s written by my favourite author and some of its scenes were filmed in my hometown, if the pictures and writings on the wall of one of our local pubs are to be believed.

I’m currently reading Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart for the first time, having owned it for years and seen the film and while it is rather different so far it still feels like the same story. Only in the film Meggie doesn’t annoy me quite so much but that may change, I am only halfway through and I will be reviewing it once I’ve finished and before I move on to the next book in the series. (I know, I know I have at least two books to review already – make that four… soon! Soon!)

Anyway, films go beyond the book. And that brings me to the second part of this blog post – going beyond the book.

This morning, when I checked my emails, I was caught by two articles from Publishing Perspectives (1, 2) about Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of InnocenceThe Museum of Innocence is both a novel and a museum situated in Istanbul, a novel which I now want to read and a museum which I can only dream of going to. Upon reading these articles there was one thing that sprung to mind: The Night Circus

I cannot think of a more perfect book to go ‘beyond’ with. If you haven’t read it, you should (review to come). The Night Circus could be such a beautiful exhibition – combine Morgenstern’s imagination with the work of talented artists and set designers and that circus could, in part, come to life. It is definitely something I’d love to see. 

There is something enchanting about books which aren’t just books, books which have things you can see and touch beyond the words on the page. It’s something I would definitely be interested in helping to create some day, if my publishing career should lead me down that route. I hope it does.

Of course, The Night Circus  is an obvious choice for such an endeavour but what other novels would suit being brought to life in … well, whatever form best befits them really, are there any titles that you would like to see, touch, smell, taste? Let me know what you think in the comments, possible-readers! I’m curious.