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For the uninitiated; Visual Novels (abbreviated as VN) are in layman terms a type of game with it's story presented in plain-text accompanied with illustrations of characters and environments, music, and some form of capability to interact with the story by picking choices that will alter the overall plot (I'm aware that VNs have evolved over time and have implemented more "modern-day" game mechanics, but I left it out since it doesn't serve any purpose here). A staple within VNs is that it follows a story that at some point will branch out into multiple plotlines—

these plotlines, also called routes, function as their own parallel universe ie. every route can be seen as it's own "book" where the only similarity the routes share is everything that happens inbetween the start of the plot and the point where the plot deviates or branches out

—which results in multiple endings, each with their own exploration of the many perspectives a theme can be interpreted as.

The question is: Is it possible to translate a VN-structured story with multiple routes into a single book (And make it cohesive)? Or is it easier to simply break up these routes into each book of it's own?

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    Based on my research and answer on Anime.SE (warning: possible spoiler for Tsukihime anime & manga), the Tsukihime manga kind of did it by integrating multiple routes, but I don't follow the series, so I don't know how it's represented.
    – Andrew T.
    Jul 25 at 4:48
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    For the purposes of this question it might also be useful to distinguish broader "routes" from individual "endings". To use another Type-Moon VN as an example, adaptations of Fate/stay night seem to have done pretty well adapting each of the three main routes separately, without bothering with the various endings within them--though I imagine for VNs in general the distinction might be much finer. Jul 25 at 8:04

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It is definitely possible to create books where people can make choices and take different story routes. They're called Gamebooks, and had their heyday in the 80's and 90's. They are also known as "Choose Your Own Adventure" books, after one of the best known series.

I think the format works better in a digital format, though. Which is probably why their popularity declined as computer games started to get more mainstream.

In book form, after making a choice you need to look up the paragraph or page on which to continue, which is not as convenient as just clicking your mouse. You're also limited by the physical dimensions of a printed book: the more choices you can make, the shorter the routes have to be.

Maybe the rise of e-books could see a revival in choose-your-own-adventure type books.

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  • It certainly feels like a Herculean effort to write a non-linear narrative with back-and-forth jumping in physical form. But it certainly would be satisfying to pull it off, right? The e-book idea sounds very interesting, too! I've made some text games years ago so I might experiment around that! As I mentioned in Nyctophobia457's reply my story is still in it's early stages of infancy so anything can happen! Thanks again for your input on the question, towr!
    – Sir Mice
    Jul 24 at 17:02
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    I believe the generic term is Gamebook. The genre was significantly broader than just the "Choose Your Own Adventure" brand, at least at its peak. Personally, all the ones I still own were outside that brand.
    – notovny
    Jul 25 at 14:30
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    @SirMice The authoring is, I would think, essentially identical as if you were producing it digitally: you write each possible scenario, give them some internal identifier, and list the identifiers each can branch to. The extra part is just to shuffle them all up, and replace all references to each identifier with a sequential number in the random order, e.g. "If users selects 'poke the dragon', show fcc3a424-cb84-4016-b482-ac3f56c7806e" would become "If you poke the dragon, turn to 452".
    – IMSoP
    Jul 25 at 16:23
  • For a pair of fantastic modern books in this format, see Ryan North's "To Be or Not To Be", and its sequel Romeo and/or Juliet
    – IMSoP
    Jul 25 at 16:25
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Your character has Fourth-Wall-breaking powers

A great in-universe explanation for alternate routes would be that the character has reality-bending powers. They might even be aware they are a fictional character and are trying to fix things so their story gets the best outcome.

They can save, reset, and change the outcome of the game to their will. To add a bit of tension, don't give them unlimited lives and reset power, but rather a limited amount of attempts to get the right outcome.

From there, you are left with a choice. To you, what is the "True Ending" of the book?

Sometimes the character will make bad decisions, and end up going to the "Bad End" to lose a life. Other times they may have to undo a supposedly "Good End" because it is not the true end or not the one that they really want. That would make for a lot of tension.

Depending on how serious you want to make it, this could be something of a moral dilemma for the MC. Is it right to mess with reality like this?

For a horror story, reality jumping would add an extra layer of existential dread. For a romance story or a comedy, you could avoid this by casually breaking the fourth wall a lot and implying that maybe everybody already knows this is a game. They're just here to have fun. It's no big deal.

With reality-bending powers, you could even claim that this is sort of a multiverse. All the endings are technically canon at the same time.

If this idea isn't for you, I'd suggest sticking with one specific route as the true end and tying in as many aspects of the other routes as possible.

For example, let's say there are two routes. In the bad end, one of the characters gets shot and nearly dies of a bullet wound. In the good end, everybody makes up and there's a wedding at the end.

So to mix those two together the novel would have the bad end part where the character gets shot, but then he survives and gets to go to his wedding. You need to find a happy medium between all the routes.

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  • My story is currently in it's early stages of infancy so I'll take any help I can get! I haven't looked up what True Ending means but I feel like it is the ending that thematically aligns the most with the message I want to get across, while a Normal Ending is a way to add variety and ambiguity to the story.
    – Sir Mice
    Jul 24 at 16:50
  • This answer reminds me a bit of "The Butterfly Effect" a (not all that great) movie where the main character can travel back in time via his journal, and repeatedly tries to fix the past. There's also a few other time travel movies that come to mind, but I can't think of the names. But time-travel is a pretty acceptable way to (repeatedly) retry for a better ending. Another interesting movie is "Sliding Doors" where the story-line splits at the start and then shows both alternative stories in parallel.
    – towr
    Jul 24 at 17:13
  • @SirMice I'm glad to help. Keep two things in mind. True Ending does not mean good or bad, it's just the canon ending. This adds tension. Perhaps there's a good end where everybody lives and the character has to choose the True End instead. Also, True Ends are usually the hardest to beat. You need to collect all the stars or save every single character. You have to beat the whole game. Get all the accomplishments. You might even need to reach all the other endings to see it. There's also Secret Endings, where you break away from the main path and go off the deep end. Jul 24 at 17:20
  • @SirMice I'd recommend playing or watching a video about the Stanley Parable, Undertale, Deltarune, or all the above. Undertale's a great example because there's no true ending, but you can either be a pacifist or a complete monster. Stanley Parable on the other hand has so many endings that simply pressing buttons can change the whole course of the game. Jul 24 at 17:23
  • Another reference point is the movie ‘Clue’. Three different endings were filmed, each giving a different explanation of the plot, and each cinema showed one of them. The version shown on TV and home media includes all three endings, one after another: after the first ending, it shows title cards saying ‘That's how it could have happened.’ and ‘But how about this?’, followed by the second ending (from the point at which it diverges). After that, there's another title card saying ‘But here's what really happened.’, and the final ending.
    – gidds
    Jul 25 at 16:47

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