In the ’70s and ’80s, a new genre in teen literature was born: the gamebook. The books, under the umbrella title of “Choose Your Own Adventure,” were the brainchild of a man named R.A. Montgomery. The interesting twist in these books was that the story was not singular: the reader would have a choice at the end of each section, with each choice directing to a new page number.
Montgomery either wrote or facilitated the production of every one of the books in the series, which is impressive, but has also meant there hasn’t been a lot of innovation in the genre. But it’s a lot of fun! So, if you want to try to write a gamebook, here are my suggestions:
Decide What Will Effect Everything
I’m a bit of a seat-of-the-pants writer, and that worked pretty well with Undead Rising, but I had to make decisions along the way. There were certain things I knew I wanted from the beginning:
- not deciding too much about the reader (the protagonist)
- a completely gender-neutral protagonist (which is tough! Be really careful with those pronouns!)
- a office environment and a home environment
- set in New York
- it will be hard to survive
But I had to make other decisions as I went. I decided that if something existed in one storyline, it had to exist for every storyline, even if the character never encountered it. Because much of the action takes place in an office building, this mostly meant that if there is an ad agency on the top floor in some scenarios, there will always be an ad agency on the top floor. This may be something you choose to do differently! But I found it helpful to have some kind of internal consistency, both for my sake and as a hint for the reader, who may encounter something story-related in one scene that will help them in another scene.
Number Your Outcomes
Though you’ll eventually have to go back and put page numbers or links in, that’s unmanageable when you start writing. I found it was much simpler to just number each choice as I went along. With every possible solution, I put a number in front of the option (ex. #1 Go to Lunch) and then put that number also in front of the first part of that section (or in the title in Scrivner; see below). This way I could search for #1 and quickly find both the launch point and the ultimate solution.
This was also helpful when I came back later to add new outcomes. My numbering might look like: #1, #2, #15. And that is perfectly fine! The numbers are for me, not for the reader.
Write The Choices Before the Scenes
As I wrote, I would complete a scene, and then immediately write down all the options that were possible from that scene. For example, you have an option to choose a medicine when you think you’re getting sick. As soon as I wrote the scene where you are picking the medicines, I decided what I wanted all the options to be and just wrote them in. Then I immediately went and created new sections (carefully numbered) based on those choices. I didn’t necessarily fill them in right away, but I needed to a) remember that I’d created that option and b) guarantee that every option actually went somewhere. There can be no dead ends except those you intend to be stopping points! By writing the choices as soon as I finished the scenes, I made sure every option was accounted for up front.
Get Out Paper and Pen
I originally tried to keep track of each reader “path” with a digital flowchart. That was a great idea…until I quickly found out that there was just too much going on. (I broke the Google Flowchart I was using. 😦 ) It was a lot easier for me to just write it out in paper and pencil. I made notes of what each section was (using the numbers, above), a little bit about it and anything that made it particularly important, and whether it was an outcome. I also listed the choices that came out of each scenario. My notes might look something like this:
#1- Stay in or go out for lunch from office? #2 #18 #34
#2- Go out for Thai food. #14 #16 #45
Use the Right Tools
I wrote Undead Rising with Scrivner, a writing tool specifically for authors, and it was a lifesaver. Unlike Microsoft Word, Scrivner lets you create a new section for every piece of the story. This might matter a bit to typical authors, but it is critical for gamebook authors. I was able to title each section with a few words of description, so I could tell what each was at a glance. I also could easily add or rearrange sections with the simple drag-and-drop interface. So much better than having to endlessly scroll in a single document!
Scrivner’s tools also let me label sections, so I could keep track of what was blank, what needed a second pass, and what was perfect.
With these steps–and a good amount of patience–you’ll quickly have a gamebook of your very own! And then…you’ve just got to edit it…. *dun dun dun!*