Posted on October 18, 2013 in Archive

Interactive novels need to find a nice middle ground


I’m surprised we haven’t seen an explosion in the market of interactive novels, to be honest. If ebooks are the logical step from print books, then surely being able to interact and visually immerse yourself in a story would be the next step up from ebooks.

Many people are still on the fence about interactive novels. This app found in the Apple App Store, an interactive version of The Thirty-Nine Steps, is a perfect example of how reading of the future could be – it includes incredibly detailed illustrations, voice actors, sound effects and virtual props. It really is more than just a reading experience; it’s a book for nearly all the senses (I don’t recommend trying to find out if ‘taste’ is one of the senses affected by this app).

Some people might find too much interactivity exasperating, however. The Thirty-Nine Steps app, for example, requires you to search the illustrations to find certain sections of text – which sounds like an activity more suited to a children’s book, if you ask me. It’s as though the developers of this app spent an afternoon brainstorming every conceivable way in which they could make John Buchan’s novel interactive, and crammed it all in.

Liquid State - Interactive novels

Textbooks or non-fiction also have particular potential for interactivity – you just need to find balance for your target audience.

That’s not to say that it ruins the novel, or that this particular approach is wrong. It might be a bit exhausting for some people (I would say this especially applies to those who have to know what happens, so they skip to the final page – cheaters), but right now interactive novels are very much in their infancy.  Why not test the waters by putting everything in, and then figuring out what it is that people like? That’s what growth is all about. It’s not like the developers couldn’t apply a sneaky software update to the novel that removes features that are met with unanimous disapproval from users. Or why not make features like ‘sound’ or ‘search for text’ optional at the beginning of the novel, so readers can decide exactly how interactive they want their experience to be?

Of course, the genre and age bracket your novel hopes to appeal towards would largely determine the features of the interactive novel. As a child of the 90’s, I fondly remember the Give Yourself Goosebumps series, where branching plots chosen by the reader determined the story. That would make a great interactive ebook! Spooky illustrations, sound effects and multiple potential endings would be perfectly utilised in such a case – the children (or nostalgic adults) reading it would be given a hugely interactive experience.

On the other hand, imbuing the same level of interactivity in an ebook version of War and Peace might not make for a pleasant experience, purely because of it’s length– you might as well pick up a film adaptation and watch that instead.

Like I said before, it’s great that the boundaries of acceptability in fusing reading and interactivity are being tested. But authors, developers and publishers should be thinking carefully about ‘how’ and even ‘if’ an ebook should have an interactive form. If done right, it could be a fantastic way of luring in the ever-rising number of people who prefer television or gaming consoles because they ‘don’t like to read’ in their spare time.