First thing I want to do here is clarify what I mean by alternative storytelling in this context. For today’s discussion, I mean medium that is not writing. Examples: film, video games, photography. I’ll be doing a post about alternative storytelling in fiction at a later date.
Now that we have that cleared up, allow me to rant.
I recently became obsessed with a visual novel on my PlayStation Vita. Novel in question? Here’s the trailer. The basic story of the game: you play as a young woman named Cardia. She has a poison in her veins that makes it absolutely impossible for her to touch anything else or she’ll melt them. Even her clothing needs to be doused in a special chemical to prevent them from melting. While she’s about to be kidnapped by the government, a thief named Lupin steals her away. And so begins her adventure to cure the poison in her veins and find her father. Also, romance. There are five different romance options in the game, each of them exploring an entirely different alternative future for these characters. If you play all five (and trust me, I did), you’ll end up linking all of the potential futures and discovering some really interesting tidbits about the world.
Which brings me to the point of this discussion. What makes this particular brand of storytelling so successful? This story could work extremely well as a book if one romance option was ‘cannon’ and the rest of the loose story ends were tied up but it would be arguably less interesting. In fact, exploring the different routes and seeing where they did and didn’t connect was more satisfying than getting the ‘true’ ending.
Visual novels work differently from an actual novel. The ‘player’ of the novel has to accept that there are some endings that won’t satisfy because they aren’t true. But that hunt to find the truth makes these stories successful.
If a novelist decided to use the same techniques as a visual novel, it wouldn’t sell well. Who would invest in a series where one book ended, the next book was essentially the same until the end where something different occurred, and the fifth ‘book’ in the series was where the ‘real’ ending occurred. At the same time, all the endings are true. It wouldn’t work.
Visual novels are a medium of their own that stand apart from other story telling types. The same goes for films and comics. While they’re all forms of telling stories, you’ve got to be careful when picking out how to tell your tale best. Sometimes you only need a short story, sometimes you need a film or a visual novel. Not everything can be adapted to another form.
Example: The Witcher 3 came out for the PS4, PC, and Xbox 1 (as you can see, I have a video game problem) and the series, the first two games originally for the PC and Xbox 360, are based on a book series. But the books aren’t really novels, they’re collections of intertwined short stories with a central theme and character. Adapting a novel, not a collection of lore and world building stories, wouldn’t work as a game. Just like twisting Code: Realize Guardian of Rebirth into a book wouldn’t work.
When figuring out your options for your own tales, be mindful of how you want to tell your story and what mediums it could be adapted for. I’ve started stories only to realize half way through: “This doesn’t need to be this long.” or “This needs to be a novel in itself.”. As a film student, I’ve also picked out times where I notice that I need a story to be a short film or short skit scene instead of a full fledged story.
It’s a hard balance to hit, but getting a start on your tale will help you figure out what medium it belongs in. There’s nothing wrong with taking a while to figure it out.