Do you remember Choose Your Own Adventures? I loved them when I was little – they gave you such power when you read them. The characters’ fates were in your hands!
Recently, I began writing a “Choose Your Own Adventure” of sorts: Every week I post a chapter of a chick lit novel-in-progress and post it online. The chapter always ends with two choices — should Katie do A or B? The readers pick their favourite, and the choice with the most votes dictates how I’ll start the next chapter.
When I started, I didn’t know I’d end up writing a Choose Your Own Adventure. Initially, I just thought I was writing a character sketch.
One day this past winter I was outside shoveling the walk. As I shoveled, a character appeared. Her name was Katie, she had wanted to be an artist, she had wanted to have adventures, she had wanted an exceptional life. And yet she was single, in an office job, with a mortgage she’d never planned on and a wardrobe entirely too full of cardigans. While I heaved snow off my sidewalk, I came up with a scene of her daydreaming at work. I knew there was potential there. I threw the shovel down, went inside, and started to write.
After about 1,000 words I got stuck. I thought about calling my sister; she always has great ideas when I get writers’ block. But I knew my friend A would probably have an idea, too. And my friend K — and T. All of these women had told me that they, like Katie, aren’t happy with their lives. “It’s like I fell asleep and woke up inside someone else’s dream,“ one friend had recently confessed. I knew the feeling.
There are so many people who share Katie’s story — a whole lot of us who aren’t sure how we ended up where we are, and aren’t convinced it’s where we should be. I knew this could be my audience. I decided I would post the story online, so that all these kindred spirits could meet Katie. And I had this flash of inspiration — I had to let the readers tell me what to write next. After all, it’s a story a lot of us are living. We might as well tell it together.
From a writer’s perspective, this is a challenging experiment. So much of writing is about isolation and creating intimate experiences with the characters. When writing a traditional novel, you share your drafts with a trusted group of confidantes, but when you work in the open, without an editor, and you publish instantly, and then you let the readers tell where you should take the story (often in a direction you hadn’t been expecting) — it’s a whole new way to write.
From a reader’s perspective, this publishing platform allows the readers to direct the narrative. Women, especially chick lit readers, love discussing the worlds inside novels. I’m creating a new kind of reading experience where readers get to give feedback about what they’d like to happen to the characters they are becoming invested in. It’s a whole new way to read, as well as a new way to write.
So how long will I write this story for? I can’t tell you that. How will it end? I can’t tell you that, either. Not because it’s a secret — it’s because I don’t know. I can’t make outlines, I can’t make plans. I can’t tell you if Katie will fix her leaking basement, I can’t tell you if she’ll fall in love, if her alcoholic sister will sober up, if she’ll put on that art show she’s been dreaming about. I hope these things happen, but it’s not really up to me. It’s up to all of us to decide her fate.
Join me, Katie, and the rest of the community at youweregoingtobefantastic.blogspot.com.
Jenny Ryan is a librarian, improv actor, and snack food aficionado living in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.