Saturday, 9 June 2012

Alternative endings in fiction

I started work on a new story, 'Camera/Phone' a few days ago. As seems to be the case with me it started with a single idea for the opening. The concept is simple, two delinquent teenagers steal a mobile phone from a stranger only to discover it has photos of a violent crime on it. As is also generally the case with me I started writing it without any clear idea of where it was going. I've ended up with a beginning that I like and which I hope is quite attention grabbing and with 3 characters who have captured my heart already (this is usually a good sign). You can read a preview of it here:
What I also now have is 3 possible endings. This part is unusual, I often don't know the ending of a story until I get close to it (this was very much the case with my novel 'Sunliner') but when I decide where a tale is going I tend to stick to that. The idea might develop and evolve but it doesn't radically change. With 'Camera/Phone' I have three endings in my head, all of which I like and all of which work for the story. I just don't know which one to write.
What I've started to think is that maybe I should just write, and publish, three different versions of the story. My question to you as a reader though is would that work for you?
Alternative endings have become fairly commonplace in cinema, with DVD special editions of movies giving people the chance to see different versions of their favourite movies. It is I think fairly rare in written fiction though. I know that a few authors have republished extended versions of their most popular works (Stephen King did it with 'The Stand' and I'm fairly sure Jack Higgins published a longer edition of 'The Eagle has Landed'), but examples of authors writing dramatically different versions of a published story seem to be rare. A Google search for "novels with multiple endings" leads to a very sparsely populated Wikipedia entry. It seems, and I wasn't aware of this, that 'Great Expectations' is often published with two endings.
What a few authors have done is write branching novels where the reader gets to choose the path they take through the story. These are in the style of the 'Fighting Fantasy' or 'Choose your own Adventure' game books that were popular in my childhood. Film critic Kim Newman did this in 'Life's Lottery' and Rudy Kerkhoven & Daniel Pitts have published a couple of ebooks that do the same thing: 'The Adventures of Whatley Tupper' and 'The Redemption of Mr Sturlobok'. The flexibility of the ebook format certainly seems very well suited to this kind of experimental story and it's shame that Newman's book isn't available electronically, especially as it's now out of print.
I haven't read any of the books I mention above but as a writer the challenge of writing a story in this way seems to me to be that you can't allow your readers to make informed choices about where they want the story to go without giving away your ending. I very much enjoy taking readers on a journey that keeps them guessing and to give them control over where the story goes isn't something I'm entirely comfortable with.
For my own purposes, then, I'm going to stick to writing three different stories rather than one branching one. What remanins to be seen which version people prefer.  

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