Enemy of Chaos – structure reviewed

December 26, 2009

If there’s one thing that has surprised me about doing EOC (and it shouldn’t have), it’s how interested people have been in the game structure of the book. I’ve had more questions and comments about the format than anything else. Most who’ve read it will have worked out that I was much more interested in jokes and funny scenarios than apeing the Fighting Fantasy game format precisely (as, for instance, The Regional Accounts Director of Firetop Mountain). And as this blog has tried to show, the response to the ideas and jokes has been pretty good so far.

So finding this today was interesting.

I don’t think the writer intends to be critical, but I found it curious that someone felt so strongly about hypertext that they were drawn to comment on the format of a book they hadn’t read purely because it was constructed in a non-linear way. So I’m going to defend it a bit from the perspective of someone just trying to make something fun. I’m not enraged or anything, honest. The writer of that post decides it’d be nice to have more than one “proper” ending, based on no knowledge of the story (stories in fact, of course), and drawing entirely from the map Roo made of it, using Graph Viz. She also suggests, a little confusingly, that most CYOA books are very linear, an idea which doesn’t seem to be substantiated by the scholarship on the subject. I feel a slight sense of guilt that my book might be accidentally perpetuating the myth that it belongs to a lazy or disingenuous genre. CYOA books aren’t necessarily linear at all, in any way really. Fighting Fantasy stories are often linear with a single ending to aim for (something I make a joke out of in EOC; the final ending is called “The Actual End”) – but the format of FF books certainly isn’t linear. The stories often have a final ending to aim for, but the joke in EOC is that you don’t know what the final ending will be, and when it arrives it is deliberately unsatisfactory – though perhaps only on reaching “The Actual End” do you realise that all of the endings are equally good and equally arbitrary. The book isn’t about conquering or achievement or reach-for-the-rainbow ambition, it’s about a being a loser. Losing is funny.

I suppose the fact is I just don’t care. I don’t care if you cheat – in fact, I encourage it. I’d like people to read it all, but it really doesn’t matter in what order you turn the pages; I just want you to enjoy as many of the ideas I had as possible. I don’t count the shape of the thing among those ideas.

My book is not designed to be a complex and mind-expanding game. It is not the cleverest format you’ll ever encounter and in many places, let’s face it, the format is quite clearly at the mercy of the plot and jokes I’d previously written. So the structure is intended to be nothing more than a fun reminder of a sort of gameplay, and this tone of light-hearted, self-mocking reminiscence is heartily reinforced through the storylines. I guess I’m saying that although I fully understand the impulse to map and comment on the shape of a thing, it’s important to me, as a writer, that my readers are readers – that they have a sense of the filling before announcing their diagnosis to the internet.

Branching narrative is a useful vehicle, but doesn’t thrill me nearly as much as the idea of making entertainment. EOC will attract people for whom the format is much more important than it is to me, and I do worry about disappointing them. Especially before they’ve read it.

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