How to Write a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Story

How to Write a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Story

All Protagonist POV, All the Time

(Disclaimer: The word ?plotline? may have different meanings in different literary contexts. In this blog post, I use it to merely refer to the experiences of the hero.)

Image for postPhoto by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash

If you?re like me, you love having options.

We have uncountable choices when buying cars, going to restaurants, and selecting video entertainment for our smart TVs. Even our GPS units find us alternate routes in bad traffic. Choices are everywhere.

Book lovers have options, too ? biographies, science fiction, mystery, horror, it?s all there. And it?s wonderful when you find an author whose writing grabs you and doesn?t let go until it?s all over. (Me? I?m a serious Harry Potter fan!)

But what if the plotline of your favorite book had taken a different turn? What if Dr. Frankenstein had created two monsters? What if the musketeers had never met D?Artagnan? What if Jay Gatsby had lived in San Francisco instead of New York?

Or what if the author had included a point where the story went off in two or three different directions? Like in the 1985 movie version of the board game Clue.

As a writer, you have the power to create amazing worlds in your readers? minds, but your story can also head in different directions with various endings. It can blossom from a single flower stem into a well-crafted bouquet, and this blog will help you get there.

Writing a choose-your-own-adventure (a.k.a. pick-your-own-path) story can get complicated, but with a little organization you can keep it under control. You?ll need to write using your hero?s senses, thoughts, and feelings. You?ll also want to keep track of each original plotline, including locations, people, inventory, and most importantly, your hero?s physical, mental, and emotional status.

Let?s break it down.

Point of View

The least used point of view is called Second Person, where the reader is led through the story as the hero. This is how you?ll write your adventure. Get used to typing ?you? and ?your? instead of ?I? and ?me?, unless you?re quoting someone. It may feel strange at first, but stick with it.

For example:

Having lost your pursuers, you fling open the first door you come to and rush into a dim room. You can see a forlorn-looking goblin shackled to the far wall as the stench of decay assaults your nose.

To create an authentic experience, make sure you describe the realistic sights, sounds, smells, tastes, physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts only your hero experiences, leaving everything else out.

There?s no omnipresent narrator in these stories, just your protagonist.

For instance, if you include?

  • Another character?s thoughts (the goblin wants to put his arms down, but your hero can?t tell)
  • Something visually hidden (there?s an empty basket behind the door, but your hero can?t see it)
  • Certain facts your hero is not privy to (the goblin is a traitor to his brethren, but your hero doesn?t know that)

?that?s cheating. Naughty author! Lightly smack yourself on the nose with a rolled up newspaper, remove the offending phrase, and continue writing.

Here?s a continuation of the above scene with some choices:

The flickering torchlight illuminates a key ring, a sword, and a coin pouch on a nearby table. Still catching your breath, you mull through your choices.

If you arm yourself with the sword, go to page 30

If you free the goblin with the keys, go to page 32

If you take the money and move on, go to page 97

You?ll notice the scene was written in the present tense. You could write in past or future tense, but that would diminish the sense of urgency needed for decision-making. Keeping the reader in the present allows the full experience of realizing that a decision must be made right here, right now.

Forks in the Road

The fun part of writing a choose-your-own-adventure story is deciding when the reader gets to make a decision and what kind of choices to provide. Your story should begin with enough background, setting, action, and peripheral characters to allow your reader to both enjoy and understand it. Then, as you develop various scenarios, ask yourself:

  • What choices will advance the plotline? (Having your hero decide on a milkshake flavor or how much kibble to give the cat doesn?t matter. Yes, mundane choices are realistic because most choices in life aren?t ?life-or-death,? but don?t let your story stagnate with too many.)
  • Did I provide the choices at a good stopping point? (You hero probably won?t want to stop in the middle of a chase/fight/love scene. Keep it real.)
  • How do I make it fun for the reader? (Include variables. Lots of ?em!)

Types of Choices

Let?s dissect those last two questions. When you create your choices, you?ll want to vary three things: the importance of the decision, the number of options, and the addition of clues.

Importance: Some decisions will be quite mundane, while others will be life-altering for your hero. Provide a good mix so the reader doesn?t get bored. The earlier example is different than standing at a corridor intersection or reading a menu at the local pub. As the author, you can make your reader?s choices as bland or exciting as you wish, but it is also your responsibility to keep him entertained.

Number: Not every real-life decision is limited to two choices, and so it should be in your story. My goblin-discovering hero has three choices: arm, rescue, or steal. Standing in a corridor might allow heading only left or right. Reading a pub menu opens up any number of culinary options.

To create authentic decision-making scenarios, give your hero different a few extra choices now and then.

Clues: You could also provide clues, allowing your reader to guess what?s coming, but not every time ? that would be unrealistic. After all, real people sometimes must make uninformed decisions, whether they want to or not.

Let?s say your hero turns a corner and sees a door in front of him/her, but also sees another one off to the left, farther away. With no description, the choice could go either way. However, what if your hero saw a scribbled picture of a dragon on the nearby door, but also saw the farther door open to a sun-drenched forest?

Descriptive clues can sway the reader, but even with clues, any insightful reader should realize one thing: Just because your text urges the reader to choose a particular action or head in a certain direction, that doesn?t mean it will end as expected. Perhaps there?s a dragon-shaped gem in the room, or maybe you hero enters the forest only to be robbed by a thief.

It?s your story, of course, but now and then you can teach your reader to expect the unexpected. This adds to the excitement!

Multiplying Plotlines

Unless you have a photographic memory, you?ll need to keep a spreadsheet of your hero?s activity. One ?decision point? with two choices ends with two plotlines, then those will give you four, etc. So if you include at least five decision points, each with two choices, then you?ll have to write and keep track of 32 different plotlines.

It grows like a friggin? weed, so have your literary machete handy or you?ll have a 900-page novel on your hands!

Apologies for the math. Moving on.

Plotline Activity

Add to your spreadsheet as you go and make sure you cover everything. Along the top you might list important details, and along the side you might list either page numbers or a short phrase reminding you of what has occurred since the last decision point. Consider the following details:

  • Who has your hero met? Does your hero have any traveling companions? What is their relationship? (Friends, enemies, followers, pets, a second head?)
  • What is your hero?s inventory? Has your hero lost/gained an item? Is it needed to achieve the goal? (Food, money, weapons, climbing gear, a holy relic?)
  • What abilities or knowledge does your hero have? (Where is the hidden letter, who was in bed with whom, how to avoid a fight or pick a lock?)
  • Has your hero achieved the goal? (Reached a destination, killed the enemy, won over the love interest, rescued the prisoner, found that holy relic?)

Plotline Endings

In a separate file, you?ll want to keep at least a basic list of how each plotline ends. Again, this is to keep your story?s entertainment value high. You wouldn?t want your hero to always find romance, always catch the bad guy, or always end up in the hospital. Boring! Think up a variety of different endings.

Let?s say you have five basic ending types (i.e. captured, killed, gets treasure, finds love, or goes home empty-handed). You might write five of each ending type, for a total of 25 endings. (But it would behoove you to write less of the ?gets killed? endings. Readers hate that!) Also, there?s nothing keeping you from combining your ending types. Maybe your hero gets the treasure, but then gets captured!

You?re only limited by your imagination. Just remember to write from the hero?s point of view, give your reader interesting choices, and keep excellent records. Have fun!

Thanks for reading!

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