Non-linear dialogue creates a personalized engaging reading experience. Below is a case study on how Nosy Crow's Jack and the Beanstalk uses non-linear dialogue to dive deeper into characters and engage young readers.

What is linear dialogue?

Linear dialogue is found almost all traditional books and storytelling. The dialogue is set to be read in a certain order from beginning to end. For example the following dialogue:

1. Nicole: Don’t you wish you could have some more cookies with your

coffee?

2. David: Stop eating so many cookies.

3. Nicole: Why are you so mean to me?

Every single person who read this post will read the dialogue in the same order from 1-3.

So... what is non-linear dialogue?

Non-linear dialogue creates multiple ways the dialogue can flow or branch. The simplest example of non-linear dialogue would be to scramble up the order the dialogue is read. So imagine (since I have no idea how to make this with a blog post) that the prior dialogue could be read in any random order. Maybe you might get 1,2,3 or maybe 2,1,3.

You might think, “oh but it wouldn’t make sense if the dialogue is scrambled!” However Nosy Crow, a digital publishing company, has made very successful book apps using this concept of non-linear dialogue that has supported and added to their narration. See the case study below.

More sophisticated uses of non-linear dialogue involve branching dialogues and non-linear storytelling. These are often seen in choose-your-own adventure style books and role playing games. Within video games, there are some games that primarily focus on how your choices affect the storytelling. These games have almost no shooting, puzzling, or fighting but are almost pure narrative experiences that blend interactive cinema and compelling storytelling. Examples include Life is Strange (episode 1 is now free! Get is here) or Walking Dead where your choices directly impact the gameplay (note: the above games are listed as mature). There are some games that use this mechanic that are majority (or even full text) games such as 80 days (based off the book Around the World in 80 days with a twist) or That Spongy Thing on Your Tongue (very short, highly recommended, suitable for middle school. You can watch a Youtuber play through it). 

Case Study: Jack and the Beanstalk

Available: iOS, Ages: 4-8, Price: $4.99

jack and the beanstalk

The narrative text can be found at the bottom of the screen where children can follow along with the read-aloud.

Although Jack and the Beanstalk has many games and puzzles that are entertaining for children (and me), much of the replay value comes from the choice to use non-linear dialogue. However, Nosy Crow uses non-linear dialogue only for the character dialogues. The main narration remains untouched and begins automatically when the page loads.

All the characters have multiple sets of dialogues to choose from in each scene. These dialogues can be prompted, usually after the narrator is finished, by clicking on the character or naturally occurring after some time. The dialogues

seem to be in no particular order and are randomly rotated so you don't hear the same thing over and over again. For instance in this scene Jack says one of 5 dialogues randomly (Another possibility he can say is "These magic beans are beautiful!"). You may also click on the man selling the beans and Daisy the cow to have them say something.

Why non-linear dialogue is important

Non-linear dialogue allows readers in the same way games are addicting. Readers are able to have a sense of control and a feeling that what they choose will matter over the narrative. In the case of Jack and the Beanstalk, children have the power to choose whether to hear more from the character they care about or even to not trigger more dialogues at all. By allowing children these simple choices already personalizes reading experience, allowing the book to be re-playable without becoming repetitive.

Furthermore, non-linear gives writers the opportunity to put in addition text to read without overloading the page. It reduces the cognitive load of the child to remember a long sequence of events in the plot. Instead, young readers can delve deeper into the story and hear more from their characters. Children are able to then catch a glimpse of what the character may be feeling and develop the necessary foundation to analyze characterization later in their education.

You can experiment with non-linear dialogue and non-linear narratives on Elementari. Tutorial coming soon! Sign up (it's free).