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I have a story I'm writing, and since when I started, it changed many times the route and focus, and in some of these changes, I found two possible paths for the story to advance on, and I already chose which one will be. However, both paths are very good and with great potential, and I don't want to simply pick one and discard the other, and I can't use this other path in another story since it's only that good because it fits perfectly in this story and no other (if I adapt a new story, it would be too similar).

So I thought of writing both paths and releasing them separately, i.e., the same story twice, two separate works with the same story, but with different possibilities. But the difference is not just a choice between two, but the way the protagonist reacts to the main event: one is the path of self-guilt along with a problem and the other is the path of wrath and revenge along with a different problem, and both with very different outcomes, so there are a few differences in the protagonist's mindset. It would basically be a "how would it be if things happened differently".

Now what I ask is: does it make sense to do that? What are other works that do that (if any)? Is it a good idea?

  • 1
    You could use both paths in the same novel, by making a dream sequence or something like that for one of the choices. A kind of "what if" imagination that would crumble as soon as the protagonist chooses the other path. – Chaotic May 18 '17 at 16:52
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There is an old piece of advice in writing circles that says "slay your darlings". When a story has been worked and reworked many times, you will have created a number of great scenes, great characters, great plot lines, great emotional arcs, great endings. (At least they will seem great to you, they will be your darlings.) The thought of not using all these wonderful bits and pieces can seem intolerable.

In Story, Robert McKee describes this as one of the greatest impediments to writing a great story that works and sells. Rather than focusing on overall story structure, he says, rewriting becomes an exercise in trying to find new ways to include all of the "great scenes", the darlings, that you cannot bear to part with. But along this course things just get worse and worse as every iteration zigs and zags off the story course to incorporate the darlings. And often more darlings get created and added along the way, leading to a story that is full of great scenes but as a whole is an incoherent mess. Thus the ancient counsel: slay your darlings.

What you are proposing, to try to spare you darlings, is to turn your work into a novelty. There are a few novelty works out there, as Virginia points out. But novelties seldom sell well. And more to the point, novelties are remembered principally for their novelty. Unless it was you intent from the beginning to create a novelty book, then presumably you want it to be remembered for something other than this novelty. To get there, you need to slay your darlings.

Slaying your darlings is often very difficult. Sometimes the best way to do it is to put the work away in a drawer for a while. Pull it out in six months. By that time, you will have forgotten how much time and labour went into writing the darlings and it will be much easier to delete them. Also, you will probably find that it is suddenly plain to you which alternative is the stronger.

Don't worry at this point about whether you can do something else with the deleted scenes. Trying to make sure that everything gets used somehow is good hunter gatherer economics, but a poor artistic strategy. Give this one book all it needs, and only what it needs. Finish it. Publish it. Then go back to the scrap pile and see if anything there still so charms you that you have to spin it into another book. Don't worry if it is similar to what you have just published. If it is popular, people will be clamouring for another just like it.

  • Sage advice again, Mark. – JP Chapleau May 16 '17 at 20:02
  • @MarkBaker You say that if a work is a novelty, it would be remembered mostly by it's novelty, but what if the story is good enough to be remembered by the story, and being the novelty a plus, instead of the most notable aspect? – Yuuza May 18 '17 at 19:53
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    @BrunoLopes I guess it comes down to how many examples you can think. I can't really think of any. Other's may be able to think of examples, though. Of course, someone has to be the first to pull something like that off, but if it has rarely been done successfully, then you have to ask yourself what you chances of success are likely to be -- and whether you want to take that risk. – Mark Baker May 18 '17 at 21:06
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There are a couple other works I am aware of that do this. I specifically remember a 1998 movie called Sliding doors. I think there is a book or a screenplay with the same name as the movie. Also there was the childrens' series, "Choose your own Adventure". The latter one had multiple endings (more than 2). The point of doing this in "Sliding Doors" was about how a split second could make a difference but in the children's series it was about the impact of choices. Any idea can be a good idea as long as it is done well. Who wants their book to be just like all the other ones?

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For once, I'll say if both sound good and interesting, write both.

Since you've already chosen one path, go with it. Then, when you finish it, if you're still excited about the other path, write it too.

There are some advantages about writing both:

  1. you won't feel bad about dropping an idea that calls to you

  2. you'll get the idea out of your head for good so you can concentrate on other ideas

  3. if you happen to have a change of heart, you can easily swap an ending for the other or, (if you become indecise later on) you can have a few betas reading and voting for the ending they prefer

There are disadvantages, of course:

  1. you may be wasting time on a piece that won't leave the drawer (though every written piece is practice and, therefore, not a waste)

  2. you may end up getting indecise again and don't know which to kill

  3. it may hurt even more to kill a long text rather than just its idea

There is also something else you can try, though it's all but traditional and has drawbacks of its own. Write and publish the novel with your favourite ending, then publish the other ending online. At the end of the novel, invite the writers to read the alternative ending and send you feedback.

Those who are satisfied with the ending may not bother to go and read the alternative, while those who are less satisfied are more likely to take a look. Of course, anyone who's curious will take a look.

2

This can, and has been done (here is an example of something similar), but it takes your book out of the realm of conventional fiction, and reclassifies it as what is called "experimental literature," which can be influential, but which typically draws only a small niche audience. It essentially becomes metafiction --work which deliberately calls attention to itself as fiction --whether or not that is your intent. This, in itself, will make it much more challenging for your reader to suspend disbelief, and to care about your characters and their actions.

This is not to say that it is not worth doing, just that doing it well would be difficult. As with any particularly difficult task, if you pull it off successfully, the acclaim will be all the much higher (some works of this type have been highly successful). But if your aims are the standard ones of a writer --to connect with an audience through a compelling story about believable characters --you're probably better off taking Mark Baker's advice, and using your multiple versions only as personal source materials for enriching your core narrative (or for future stories exploring similar themes).

If you do elect to go the experimental route, however, you might enjoy this essay on the ways of marrying experimentalism with the depth of feeling and other pleasures of classical literature.

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Welcome to the new millennium! I disagree with traditional advice. Back in the day length of a commercial novel was dictated by how many paperback pages could be bound with the book falling apart. The length of a movie was a combination of the public's perceived attention span and the need for the theatre to fit in three showings per day.

The film industry has moved on, we now have alternative endings and directors cuts. Something that would help all aspiring writers is to have the "Author's Edition" and "Publisher's Edit" - that way we'd know what was cut and an opportunity to work out 'why'.

I recall a particularly frustrating request from a publisher. An orphaned female character wants to be an athlete. Her grandfather supports her career. After winning the Olympic title the character announces her retirement. Her grandfather expresses his disappointed but agrees to support her decision even if he doesn't understand why. In the middle of his objections she hugs him saying, "Granddad, you're great."

I believed that was probably the best ending I'd ever written. The publisher was unhappy and wanted the ending 'explained'.

For those in the cheap seats: How do you turn your grandfather in a great grandfather?

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