Browsing in the murky underworld of crossword blogs, I have just stumbled across an as-yet not-fully-funded crowdsourced publishing project which aims to reprint a murder mystery by Torquemada (a giant of crossword history). The book is a puzzle, dating originally from 1934, and consists of 100 pages of narrative which the reader needs to combine into a coherent whole that identifies whodunnit. If the project gets off the ground, there will apparently be a prize for the first correct completed entry. (I have no connection with the project, by the way; it merely caught my eye, and I find the concept intriguing enough that I signed up for a copy if it should ever come to fruition.)
It’s an interesting notion, which sounds as though it would challenge our expectations of the linearity or non-linearity of text. The reader chooses the order of pages – but at the same time, the exercise is the exact opposite of a choose-your-own-adventure. The premise is that there is just one correct route through a jumbled mass of 100 pages, and the puzzle is to find that single solution.
In thinking about this, I looked up “non-linear narrative” on Wikipedia, and was surprised by the list of books listed there. I’ve read a fair few of them, and don’t remember any of them being particularly non-linear in the way that I understand the description. Perhaps memory takes steps to rationalise the irrational.
It occurred to me that Scrivener would be a great tool for putting together this sort of project, if one were writing such a puzzle book from scratch, because it would be easy to explode your book into a disorderly collection after completing the text.
And there are interesting comparisons to be made with writing Novel in a Day, where we each write our own individual section with only limited information on how it will eventually fit into the story as a whole.