When Twitter announced that it would allow users to create two-question polls, the news was met with the usual groaning aversion (remember the star-to-heart debacle?). Sarcastic and nonsensical uses of the new tool cropped up across the social network.
While writer Jedediah Berry understood tweeters’ cynicism -- “I honestly might have rolled my eyes,” he told The Huffington Post in an email -- he saw Twitter polls as an opportunity to tell stories in a new way.
“I realized that I could use the polls function as a means for involving readers in the making of a story,” he said, and he quickly tweeted a few fictional lines followed by a choose-your-own adventure-like option for readers.
Although Berry wasn’t sure where the story was going (“that was kind of the point,” he said), what emerged was “Untine,” a tale about a talking owl and a labyrinthine forest, told in rich, earthy language.
The polls that end each line of text involve voting not only on verbs -- and therefore the actions the characters take -- but also whimsical nouns, like “I’m sorry about your wind garden” versus “I’m sorry about your clockwork.” This allows the audience to be involved not only in the story’s plot, but also in its tone and intricate details.
Berry -- a self-described longtime fan of Choose Your Own Adventure books -- is used to telling stories in an unconventional manner. He grew up playing narrative games like "Zork" and the "Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy," which might explain why his tales are embellished with fantastical elements. He’s even written a fictional story in the form of a deck of cards.
Unlike some other writers who’ve used Twitter as a means of crowd-sourcing works of fiction, Berry mostly controls the options presented to readers, rather than incorporating the audiences’ words and suggestions.
“I have heard from readers hoping for particular twists,” Berry said. “In one case, a suggestion inspired one poll option. Mostly, though, I hear from readers celebrating their 'victories' when their favorite choices win out -- or bemoaning the fact that their choice wasn’t the majority pick.
Which isn’t to say that readers didn’t challenge Berry to consider plot devices he’s less familiar with. He feels his audience had significant sway in determining how the story would unfold -- and they were even able to vote on the story’s final lines. Imagine if the same liberties had been given to, say, Harry Potter fans.
“I love seeing how readers want our protagonist to act,” Berry said. “They've made her fearless, and she often defied what other characters think she should do. Often, too, my readers’ choices differ from what I know I would do if I’d been alone with the text. Figuring out how to respond to narrative instincts other than my own is an exciting challenge.”
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