Putting Humpty together again

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.

George Landow’s done some interesting criticism and theory on “hypertext.” (Non-linear texts.) It’s a concept that comes up in video game theory a lot, too.

I’d think the new corkboard in Scrivener 3.0 would be really useful in writing these sorts of things. :slight_smile:

I wonder whether, as an author, you would subconsciously have a single preferred timeline/thread through the story, at the back of your mind, even if you intended the end result to be non-linear. In the case of “Cain’s Jawbone”, the author obviously had a single path in mind, but the fact that only two people actually managed to solve the puzzle and identify that correct structure suggests that linearity (or recognition thereof) may be quite subjective.

I’ve just started reading Laurence Sterne’s The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, inspired by the blurb around the more modern project, and am enjoying it. Not least because it’s good to see someone who is even more prone to extended parenthetical digressions/elaborations than I am! :slight_smile: