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To Be or Not To Be: That Is The Adventure

<strong>Hamlet has never been done quite like this. Ryan North has crowd-funded a ‘Choose-your-own-adventure’ version of the famous play, and you can choose to ‘play’ as any of the characters. But be warned, some of them last longer than others…</strong>

Two years ago, I was thinking about Hamlet’s big “to be, or not to be” soliloquy and I realized it was structured like a choice, almost like those old <em>Choose Your Own Adventure</em> books I read as a kid. “It would be cool,” I thought, “if the whole play was like that.” My next thought was “OH MY GOSH, I HAVE TO WRITE THIS.”

Six months later, I’d produced a book called <em>To Be or Not To Be: That Is The Adventure</em>. It contained 91,000 words in over 450 nodes, with 662 links between those nodes, or to put it another way, the book contained 3,001,181,439,094,525 possible stories in it. There were over 100 different ways to die, and  I wanted dying to be fun, something to look forward to. In the book, I mean.<!–more–>

I decided I’d get all the awesome artists to illustrate the endings, but this was beyond what I could afford. I went to <a href=””>Kickstarter</a> to raise funds for the book, asking for $20,000. We raised that money in three hours, and by the end of the day had broken $100k. By the time the campaign was done, 30 days later, the book had raised $580,000 and we’d become the most-funded publishing project on Kickstarter ever.

The book that came out of that process wasn’t the one that began it. Now the book is being printed in full colour, we’re sending free copies to schools and libraries all over the planet, and I exploded my head (<a href=””>literally</a>). The story of the book is pretty interesting, but the book itself is rad too! You can read some of it by <a href=”″>going back through the Kickstarter updates</a>: every day I’d post a new page, and the backers would vote on where the story would go next.

But you can also read the full book now too; it’s finally out. Backer copies are flying towards the Kickstarter supporters, and the book is now available in bookstores and online through the publisher, <a href=””>Breadpig</a>, or through places like <a href=”;camp=1789&amp;creative=390957&amp;creativeASIN=0982853742&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;tag=d_1_1-20″>Amazon</a>.

So what’s the book actually about?

Well, it’s Hamlet, only you can play as Hamlet. Or Ophelia. Or Hamlet’s dad, King Hamlet, but if you choose him you die on the first page and have to/get to go through the rest of the book as a ghost. There’s little Yorick skulls marking the choices Shakespeare made when he played through the book, but you can always go off the plot and have new adventures. What if you, as Hamlet, weren’t so indecisive? What if Hamlet WAS so indecisive but you, as Ophelia, decided to help him out and do the murders for him? How does someone die by getting poison poured in their ear work, anyway?

<em>To Be or Not To Be</em> is my first novel, and I really recommend anyone starting out to explore the format. For me, it helped the seemingly-impossible hurdle of writing a book get cleared! With a novel, you have to get everything right. Your plot has to be something that really connects with people. And you only get one shot in a regular book! But in a branching-narrative format, you get TONS of shots. Suddenly every word doesn’t have to be The Perfect Word Because There’s No Taking This Back. I found that to be really liberating, actually.

I wrote the book using <a href=””>Twine</a>, which is open-source software for both PC and Macs. It’s handy software in that it lets you have boxes with links between those boxes – ideal for this sort of book – but it is beta software, which means you should expect some wrinkles. But once you start writing, and you start seeing the map of your book get bigger and more complex, everything seems to fit. It’s really satisfying seeing a book grow this way, and much more fun than just watching a file-size counter go up! The book was then exported to Word for sharing with editors, and then into InDesign to lay out the physical book.

For the digital books, rather than struggle with tools designed for authoring books where only a single thing happens and you don’t even get to choose (you know: baby books), I fell back on my computer science background and wrote software myself that converted the Twine file into a database, and then converted that database into the file format expected by ePub files. We tested on multiple platforms to  find out the best eBook formatting (there’s not much prior work in this field) and the final result is a file where each node gets its own chapter, and each choice too. Choices are handled by internal hyperlinks, and the book ends up being intuitive – and fun, since the “back” button on your eReader lets you roll back your previous choice so you can choose the other option.

As part of the Kickstarter stretch goals, I’ve already promised a sequel, which I’m working on now. But that’ll take me months, maybe even years! In the meantime, why not check out To Be or Not To Be?

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<strong><em>Stand by for our TLP review of ‘To Be Or Not To Be’ – coming very soon!</em></strong>

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