If any of you are as old as me, you might remember the ‘choose your destiny’-type books from the 80s and 90s. In particular I remember the Stephen Jackson and Ian Livingstone ‘Fighting Fantasy’ books. Anyone remember Deathtrap Dungeon or The Warlock of Firetop Mountain?
It started out as a game for children where the narrative was not linear, in that at the end of each page, the reader is given a choice to make to progress the story. The decisions that the reader makes influence the outcomes of the story, ending up in an overall ‘completion’ or usually several different ‘failures’. In essence, what we are talking about, is an interactive story. How cool is that??
So How Do You Write One?
The first thing that I thought about when thinking about this post, was ‘how on earth am I going to keep all the story strands organised?’ The good news, is that are many different pieces of FREE software for organising and setting up your story. My favourite is Storyboard, and I’ll show you how easy it is in a later post, along with a choose your own adventure story put together by my son!
These are all free, open source projects that run in the browser.
Quest – Quest lets you make interactive story games. Text adventure games like Zork and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Gamebooks like the Choose Your Own Adventure and Fighting Fantasy books. You don’t need to know how to program. All you need is a story to tell. Your game can be played anywhere. In a web browser, downloaded to a PC, or turned into an app.
Storyboard – In my opinion, the best and most straightforward of the bunch. It was designed by a group who wanted some software to write their own adventure, and took all the best bits from each of the above plus all the things they wanted to see, and created Storyboard.
How to Write Your Story
Write your story – This is the easy bit. Write a draft of your story, start to finish.
Break into blocks – Go back through your story and separate each possible storyline. Look for points where decisions are made and ask yourself what would happen if I had made a different choice at that point? write that new storyline and split that at any option points.
Choose endings – There should be several story paths that end up your character failing to get what he is looking for. Maybe they die? Maybe they are too late to save the heroine? Maybe they get lost in a maze?
There will also have to be story paths that result in success – the hero gets the girl; he finds the lost treasure; he meets his mother. There should probably be several victory scenarios, as no one likes to lose all the time, but they could be partial victories:
- The hero escapes, but his partner dies
- They make it out of the dungeon but not in time to save the city
- The hero solves the riddle but it is bad news
How Many options Should You Give
This is kind of a ‘how long is a piece of string’ question, but it also comes down to two things:
- how much patience do you have to spin out the multiple storylines?
- how complex do you want the story to be?
Each choice you create will create an alternative storyline – what if Indiana Jones decided not to pick up the idol? In that case you would have to write the story to it’s conclusion based on that decision. Having 5 options at the end of every page / scene can quickly create a huge number (not to mention complexity) of storylines
Do you want your readers to feel like there is no end to the story? Does anyone want to spend the time it would take to read a story of that length, only to ultimately end up with a failure? Do you think they would try again to achieve a different outcome?
I would suggest a maximum of three options for each choice that you include, with some having two and others still only having one (just to move the story along).
Does it Have to be Online?
Although I have been talking about a browser game, this can very easily be converted into a Kindle or paperback version.
Whilst Storyboard does not auto create a Kindle version, you can use the software to write the story and sign all the connections from your choices. Then it is a simple task of assigning a number to each scene and transferring that to the physical copy.
For example, in the browser version of my story, there is an option to pull the car over or carry on. In the browser, just click the desired option to be taken to the resulting page. If it were a physical copy, I could say:
- To pull over, turn to page 44
- To carry on driving, turn to page 22
In my layout, I would have labeled the choices as #44 and #22
Pros and Cons of writing a Choose Your Own Adventure
- They can be shorter than an 80,000 word novel – although there may be that many words in there, a reader will usually only get to read some of them, depending on which route they take
- They can be more difficult to write, as you are not just writing the one story. Potentially you are writing all possible variations
- The stories are usually told in present tense, which some love and some don’t. Present tense, whilst exiting, can be tricky to write
- Because of the many branches, you may have to outline, which could be a good or a bad thing depending on your style of writing
Where Else Can I Find Advice?
There are a few other places you can find much more comprehensive advice:
My son has kindly donated a short choose your own adventure story. It is all about getting to the park with your friends, although you may have some knife-related trouble with a gang along the way. A lot of trouble.
You can try your hand at his adventure HERE.
I think I’m going to try to turn one of my short stories into this format, possibly the same one I am trying to turn into a comic, that way, there will be a story, a ‘choose your own adventure’ and a comic of that story. It may seem like giving myself a lot of work, but getting Storyboard sorted is very quick and straightforward. My son took just a few hours to create his story above, and I already have large chunks of the narrative written.
My question to you: How quickly did you die? Did you try again? Can you envisage modifying one of your stories to fit this format?