Almost a year ago, I began a serial on The Morning News called “The Education of Elisabeth Eckleman.” It was about a smart but somewhat naive college freshman navigating her first semester away from home. I named her Elisabeth because that is my mother's pet name for me; I gave her the last name Eckleman because it was weird and alliterative, and the name didn't show up anywhere on Google.
The gimmick of the serial was to let readers, at the end of each installment, choose what happened next. This seemed like a brilliant idea for three reasons: 1) It capitalized on the interactive quality of web writing; 2) It gave readers a stake in what happened next; and mostly 3) As a fiction writer, I was hopelessly bankrupt when it came to plot. Back in college, I would write entire plays and short stories that took place in one room, with a lot of clever dialogue and little to no action. Characters felt things, deeply, but they rarely did anything besides get drunk, cuss, and complain–which probably tells you a good deal about my life at that time.
Punting the burden of plot to my audience, I figured, was the perfect solution. Of course, it wasn't that easy. I probably would have gotten better–or, at least, more exciting–results had I simply pulled suggested plot points out of a hat. “This week, Elisabeth gets VD.” Or, “This week, someone gets eaten by a tiger.” Instead, I had to devise a plausible dilemma for each episode, which more often than not (owing to my own creative limitations), boiled down to a decision between two potential love interests. Readers complained: Shouldn't a college freshman be concerned with things other than boys? I scoured my own experience but came up blank; obviously, I wasn't the best example. But Elisabeth soldiered on, despite a few stumbles, and today The Morning News publishes the final installment in her story.
I should say, for the record, that Elisabeth is not me. She has a lot of my sensititivies and habits (like cheese pizza and Diet Coke), but as a freshman I was more self-destructive, more cynical. But I like Elisabeth. She is a sweet girl, and I will miss her.