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What Is an Interactive Novel?

By Tara Barnett
Updated May 23, 2024
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An interactive novel is, quite simply, a text with which the reader can interact on some level. While the most common type of interactive fiction involves choosing the direction of the story from a set number of options, interactions beyond this basic structure are also possible. For example, novels can be steered by readers because they are ongoing, with the author actively changing the story based on interactions. Alternatively, a novel can be played like a game, with the reader inputting commands or adding to the story. This type of novel is particularly popular for online and electronic literature because the technical capacities of these formats are conducive to interaction.

Most people are familiar with the basic type of interactive novel, which involves choosing a direction for the story to take. Interaction in this case involves deciding which of the presented options the reader would like to follow. In some of these novels, there is a goal or an end that is desirable, which is compared with ends where the protagonist dies. Certain classic novels of this type were designed in the second person, creating an adventure with the reader as the main character.

An interactive novel can also be open ended, in which no particular path wins or loses. In many cases, this type of novel is explained as a type of environment in which the reader can explore. This type of interactive novel is in some ways similar to a text-based role-playing game, although often with significantly more artistic considerations and less focus on action.

Collaborative interactive novels are slightly more complicated, because in many ways they lose the general format of a novel and move toward a new form of fiction altogether. Novels that include reader input and multimedia options are often included in this category. The primary thread that binds all these types of interactive fiction together is their basis in text, although even this is fading away.

Other types of interaction with the novel might not even take direct responses from the reader. For example, a novel with interaction based on location might present different parts of the novel depending on where the reader is standing. Some novels take the form of a game and release content only when the reader has accomplished certain tasks. With future technology, it may be possible to have an interactive novel that connects to readers in different ways, such as through physical movement or completing assignments. Depending on the interest in this genre of fiction, there may someday be innovations even in the way that the information is presented to readers, and people may read on special devices designed specifically for this type of literature.

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