The interactive novel is a form of interactive web fiction. In an interactive novel, the reader chooses where to go next in the novel by clicking on a piece of hyperlinked text, such as a page number, a character, or a direction. While authors of traditional paper-and-ink novels have sometimes tried to give readers the random directionality offered by hypertexting, this approach was not completely feasible until the development of HTML. For a discussion of paper novels that use a branching structure, such as Choose Your Own Adventure novels, see the Wikipedia entry on gamebooks.
By following hyperlinked phrases within an interactive novel, readers can find new ways to understand characters. There is no wrong way to read a hypertext interactive novel. Links embedded within the pages are meant to be taken at a reader's discretion – to allow the reader a choice in the novel's world.
A typical example of this genre is The Interactive Novel: Pick a character, pick a direction, found on David Benson's "No Dead Trees" website. This fiction allows readers, who can also become writers, to explore the novel from a list of characters given at the site. The novel is intended to be read randomly, as the reader chooses to follow various directions.
Another example of an interactive novel would be Pottermore, which is J. K. Rowling's extended version of the series Harry Potter, which can be found online. This offers the reader a different experience into the Harry Potter world, and enables them to find out further information on the Harry Potter series. The reader can find different ways that they can discover different sections of the novels, through browsing and collecting items which allows the reader to go further through Pottermore.
The genre has prompted some less than respectful responses, including a comment by John Updike, who participated in an early effort at online fiction, that "books haven't really been totally ousted yet." Other critics, while conceding the hyped and trendy nature of the genre, have found real value in the immersive if sometimes disorienting nature of interactive fiction.
There are many interactive novels on the Web. Some of the older efforts have fallen into disuse, but the ease of creating such fiction, with the lack of the barriers to entry typical of traditional paper-and-ink publishing, helps to keep the genre alive with new works.
"Wovel" is Underland Press's term for an online interactive "web novel." It is almost in the style of a Choose Your Own Adventure gamebook in which the reader chooses which way the action will continue. It is written by the author as people vote which way the action will continue. Because the author has no way of knowing how everyone will vote, they have to wait until voting is finished to continue writing the story. Despite its interactivity, because a Wovel is released piece-by-piece, it is a form of webserial. Also, each "episode" ends with a cliffhanger, but the choice and fate of the plot is up to the reader's vote, and not predetermined by the author. The first wovel was from Victoria Blake's Underland Press and features Kealan Patrick Burke's The Living (which is still ongoing). It started June 1, 2008 and immediately had over 1,000 readers and 700 votes in its first few days of being published online. It currently releases a new section of the story every Monday, and voting on it continues through Thursday. Burke writes the new section of story, and then the new post goes up on the following Monday.
- "No Dead Trees, The Interactive Novel". Archived from the original on 2006-11-19.
- Linton Weeks (1998-12-10). "Cyberprose and Cons". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-09-09.
- "Hype or Text? An Anthology of Reader Responses to Hypertext Fiction & Links to Hypertext Sites". Washington State University. 1996. Retrieved 2007-09-09.
- "Online Interactive CyberNovels: Serial Novels, CyberNovels and Game Style Stories, All Readable Online". LinxNet. Retrieved 2007-09-09.
- "Resurrection House". Underlandpress.com. Retrieved 2015-05-04.
- "Underland Press and The Wovel". Archived from the original on 2008-08-29.
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- "Groundbreaking Online Wovel Launched by Book Publisher". Reuters. 2008-06-11.