Will Technology Drive Readers to Demand More?

It rarely happens, but this year, I had the opportunity to go somewhere nice on vacation. Not only was it somewhere nice, but it was on a river cruise, a “cozy” setting where I had a week to get up close and personal with 140 people, pretty much all of whom had disposable income, at least one variety of electronic reading device, and no shyness about whipping out their TBR lists.

Really, authors. Stop salivating. It’s unbecoming. And you’ll short out your electronic reading devices.

Okay, I sold a few books. But during the week, I had a lot of chances to talk to readers. Not like at the usual events, where I’m reading and signing, answering questions, having the briefest of exchanges. But really talk to them about what they read, why, and how technology is changing their experiences.

“I’m disappointed in e-books,” one gentleman told me at dinner.

Yay, I thought, another discussion about formatting issues. Typos. Grammar. Price gouging. Once again I will have to defend the entire indie author movement because a few of us haven’t gotten the memo that when someone is paying for an experience that will last longer than it takes to down an espresso, they’d rather it not be riddled with the most basic of errors.

I waited for him to start.

“I thought they’d be more…advanced than they are now,” he said. “Given the current capabilities of technology.”

This got my attention. He went on. “I want to choose which character tells the story. Say you have an event, and it’s different depending on who’s describing it. I don’t see why we can’t choose the point of view.”

Oh, boy. Okay, I had several options here. One: a long and tiresome defense of the value of experiencing a creative work the way the creator intended it to be experienced. Two: excuse myself to the ladies’ room and never return. Three: consider his request and speculate on how it could be realized.

The ladies’ room was occupied. I hadn’t had enough wine for option one. I signaled the waiter to refill my glass and mentally waded into option three.

Why can’t that be done, really? On a web site, it would be simple. Maybe have a core page where the event is laid out through omniscient narration (although how can that truly be an objective accounting), with links coming off it for subpages in each character’s perspective. But is this reading? Is this truly even a novel anymore? Just because Jennifer Egan created a chapter of A Visit from the Goon Squad as a PowerPoint presentation (which, to my disappointment, wasn’t really a true PowerPoint presentation in the e-book), just because some books allow you to choose your own ending, do we have to follow Alice down this rabbit hole?

Should we give the readers what they want, what technology can bear?

Before you start flaming me about artistic vision and integrity, aren’t we to some extent catering to the reader already? Not too many years ago, graceful, lovely hard-bound editions were crafted, meant to last for generations. This treatment lent a sense of seriousness to the work. It was how the book’s creators meant it to be enjoyed: as a full, sensual experience. (No, not THAT way, Hise.) Then readers tired of giant tomes breaking their noses when they fell asleep reading in bed. Coincidentally, new technology became available that prevented this medical malady. Lo and behold, authors made e-books. Technology (and the opportunity to make more money) drove the creation of more and better e-readers. And we adapted our books to fit them. We gave up the rigid control of the print media and let authors choose their own fonts, their own sizes. In the interest of full disclosure, I’m an old-time book designer. Font design and choice were about more than just a pretty face. A novel that takes place in medieval Bavaria does not have the same flavor when set in Courier or Times New Roman. It still does not feel right to me to read War and Peace on my Kindle. Also, like everything in our culture, genres and writing styles cycle in and out of favor. Attention spans shorten; we tighten our writing. Prologues are in. Prologues are out. Happy endings are in. Happy endings are out. (Insert your own happy ending joke here; I’m tired.) Humor sells. Vampires sell. We’re done with vampires. Chick lit is dead. The novel is dead. Whatever. Most of us don’t write to suit a fickle marketplace, but we are influenced somewhat by what people want to read, don’t want to read, or how they want to read it.

Which brings me back to the question I always ask of technology: Just because something can be done, should it? If readers, wanting the next innovation, crave a more interactive experience with a work of fiction, should it be available? Okay. Done well, that could be interesting.

But what if they want to make their own covers, choose the name, sex, ethnicity of the protagonist? My answer: write your own damned book. I’m going to the emergency room. War and Peace just broke my nose. Again.

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Laurie Boris is a Contributing Author for Indies Unlimited and author of the five-star novel, THE JOKE’S ON ME. Her second novel, DRAWING BREATH, has just been released. For more information, please see the IU Bio page and her website: http://laurieboris.com.

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Author: Laurie Boris

Laurie Boris is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, and former graphic designer. She has been writing fiction for over twenty-five years and is the award-winning author of four novels. She lives in New York’s lovely Hudson Valley. Learn more about Laurie at her website and her Amazon author page.

38 thoughts on “Will Technology Drive Readers to Demand More?”

  1. Good post, Laurie. The elderly gentleman may have a point, but that means a novelist will have how many times the writing to do? Let's say your river cruise boat was attacked and sunk by a group of killer robo-frogs, and the writier has to tell the sinking from 140 points of view. Just so the reader can choose whose and how many characters he'd like to hear it from, and then not bother with the rest? So half the writer's effort is canned but has to be there "just in case".

    Hmm, so this is the future of fiction writing: on top of all the blogging, tweeting and everything else we have to do, now our stories should multi-view-pointed so that people with e-readers can feel agreeably amused with their toy. Grrrr…

  2. I have s of mixed feelings about this. My immediate thought is that I'd like to shake him & yell, "Do you have any idea how much freaking work goes into writing a novel? You self-important, self-indulgent, philistine!" But I will say that I can see something like that happening w/maybe flash fiction, or perhaps even a short story, but not with a novel. I think he thinks the ebook is being written by the e-reader & not an actual person

  3. Hi Laurie,

    Interesting, but I think it's like Christopher said – a video game and not a book. Perhaps it will be a niche format in the future, but I wouldn't want to write it.

    And that is coming from an author who has written 2 full novel with each chapter from a different character's first person POV. However,I don't dwell on rewvisiting an occurence, but rather I advance the story with a different perspective. There is minimal overlap.

  4. Seems like every few years the reading experience gets "revolutionzied" by some new bells-and-whistles that are all the rage for about two months. Then everybody goes back to "regular" books. And I include e-books as "regular," as they are also just words on the "page" when you get right down to it.

    I've always felt like if a reader is thinking about the weight of a book, or the font, or the feel of the paper, or the music the book is playing, then they aren't "in" the story. Better writing fixes that, not turning a book into a movie.

    😉

    1. Ed, I think the font and the feel of a book enhances the reading experience. If done well, it's supposed to disappear and let you fully enter the story. Good writing, of course, should come first.

  5. I'm with everyone who says this is already being done… in video games. Which, I might add, are perfectly legitimate art forms and at their best offer something different from novels and movies, yet equally satisfying.

    I'm with Ed on the gimmick thing. Is this the equivalent of 3D in the movies? Fun for a while but ultimately tiresome?

    That said, I have to admit to being intrigued by the potential for an alternate ending. Would be very doable and handled well, could work. Maybe include it after the bulk of the story, as a "DVD Extras" type feature. I mean, why not use the potential of ereaders more?

    Great post, Laurie.

  6. Awesome post. This will happen, but people will still like traditional books. When I was a kid the "choose your own adventure" series was hugely popular. I read a lot of them. I also read a lot of regular books. I don't foresee myself writing and interactive book, personally.

    1. I'm hoping people will still like traditional books. Not because I write and hope to sell them. No. Not because of that. Well. A little bit.

  7. Interesting idea. My thought is that it might work for certain genres – perhaps graphic novels, or comic books, maybe even romances. But I cringe at the thought of most novels being treated that way. As already said, what about the intention of the writer to send a particular message by choosing a particular point of view? But maybe I'm a dinosaur.

  8. Novels with scratch-and-sniff pages. Pillow mint rewards at the end of each chapter. Blank paragraphs the reader can fill in to 'improve' on the existing dialogue. E-novels with embedded hi-def movies in case the reader isn't quite 'getting the picture'. Links to synonyms for all difficult, polysyllabic adjectives. Blinking ads for related topics filling in the margins. Alternate plots, characters, endings, authors…

    This dystopia lurks somewhere between spoon-feeding, pandering and outright bribery, if you ask me. It's like my living room stereo: too many bells and whistles nobody will ever use.

  9. I was going to say the same as the first commentor, the guy wants a video game. I would have gone for option 2, then maybe spoken to a games creator about adapting my book to a game. 😉

  10. I suspect that for certain kinds of genres an interactive book may not be that far into the future. Maybe as a grpr – graphic role playing romance. Or how about grpc where the reader could be either the detective, the victim or the killer? Of course choosing to take the pov of the victim could make it a very short experience…

  11. Laurie,

    Did you see what he was reading? Was it 50 Shades of Grey that he wanted to, you know, create his own character? Take part in the story? Was the cruise not exciting enough? 🙂

    The first time I notices the change of POV with each new chapter was The Poisonwood Bible. I loved that book.

    Great post.

    1. Thanks, Lois. No, I didn't see what he was reading, but he was very, very serious about his disappointment! I also loved Poisonwood Bible. All of her books!

  12. Even if we could do this, even if we really wanted to flesh out full varying POV plot lines for the entire plot of the book, what happens when they don't like where we take it? Or they don't want the heroine to lose/quit her job? or any number of things. The tree of possible actions, reactions and interactions becomes astronomical. Besides, part of the thrill of a book is seeing from the author what you didn't think of yourself, and to do that, it helps to follow the author on their journey.

    Just my thought, personally when I was young I liked the idea of the choose your ending books, but when I read them , they seemed somehow shorter and less than a normal book.

  13. I too loved Choose Your Own Adventure Books but I do remember feeling mildly cheated. In effect you get much briefer and more superficial stories.

    I am interested in this concept though – not as a single author thing, but I'd be interested in seeing a multi-author collaboration. A single agreed plot structure but different points of view to delve into. Not quite sure how it would work, in actuality.

    If you did it really well you could get something rich and complex. Fun to write in any case.

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