Tag Archives: gamebook

How to Edit Your “Choose Your Own Adventure”-Style Book

Now that you’ve written your totally awesome gamebook, you’ve got to edit it! Unfortunately, because you’ve got all these disconnected storylines running all over the place, that’s a bit more of an organizational feat than normal editing. So what should you do? Here’s my advice after working on my adult zombie gamebook, Undead Rising: Decide Your Destiny.

Take a Deep Breath
And just try to be patient. It’s pretty complicated, and even after taking more than 6 passes through it (both me and with other editors) I still found mistakes in the final form. Which is frustrating.
Make a Checklist
Since you made that awesome list when you wrote it, you can now turn that list into a checklist. You’ll want to mark off each section you’ve read/reviewed as you go. YES, you will most likely loop through the same sections repeatedly. You have to check the direction with every one, even if you just glance to make sure the transitions make sense.
Use the “Find” Feature
Late in the game I decided to change the names of a few characters. There was no way in Hades I was ever going to find all the incidences of those names, but the find tool made it easy to find and replace them in one quick pass. The same thing holds true with other story details (if you’ve decided, as I did, to keep some things constant across storylines). Because you’ve got a nonlinear story, you’ll need some clever tricks to track everything down.
Rewrite and Modify
After I showed a draft copy to my brother, I had to add in a few more scenes. (He felt like he died too often, poor baby). Because I’d written the book in Scrivner, this wasn’t that hard, but it did mean changing the choices to lead to that section, and inserting new pages. If I had been going by page number at this point–instead of the simpler numbering system–I’d have been in big trouble.
Layout the Pages
When you are completely confident that the story works, doesn’t have errors, and is generally in good shape, lay out the pages. It is a BIG headache if you have to go back and change these later (odds are good that you’ll have to go back and change them later…) but that’s why you’ve got your checklist as a backup.
You may want to do a rough layout, and then save two versions, if you’re doing ebook and print. They are similar in manuscript format but are about to change dramatically.
Add Page Numbers
I worked from the beginning and moved through my numbered list in order. That meant, in some cases, I added page numbers to some choices and left others with the placeholder number until I reached that point in the number system. In those cases, I just used the “find” tool to find my placeholder once I knew for certain what page it would be on. I also wrote the page number next to the original number in my list.
Use a pencil. I had to erase and scratch out at least a few times, particularly in the final pages.
Add Links
Because I wanted an ebook option as well as a printed option, I had to add links for ereaders. But the number system I used also made this pretty easy! I added the links in my document in Word (after exporting the manuscript from Scrivner). Word has a great “bookmark” tool that allows you to create in-document links. In Microsoft for Mac, this is located under Insert>Bookmark. You’ll add the bookmark itself to the section you want to send readers to, and add a hyperlink to that bookmark to each choice. (So: choices become links; bookmarks are at the beginning of the new section). You can also nickname your bookmarks with a few words–or even your number system. That chart you made really comes in handy!
Google “add bookmarks in Word” if you need step-by-step directions. A word of warning: if you have a full novel like Undead Rising with a lot of links, your document is going to get pretty big and the bookmarks may get challenging. That’s another reason I find the number system so useful.
Add Formatting For eBook and Print Versions
This was really time-consuming and you may want to hire a designer for this part. Print and ebooks naturally have some strong differences in layout and needs of the reader, and you’ll have to design carefully to accommodate that. For print, I wanted clear bullets to indicate each new choice. For the ebook, the choices were already obvious because they are underlined links. I also added dropcaps to signal new sections for the print book; that wouldn’t be necessary in an ebook, because the link will “warp” the reader directly to the new section.
Whatever formatting you decide on, be extremely careful that you don’t mess up your page numbers (in print) and that you are consistent throughout.
Check It Again
After you think everything is perfect, you’re going to need to check it..again. And probably again after that. The first pass should look for spelling and grammatical issues (I read the book backwards to help look for those); the second pass should check every link and every page direction. It’s tedious but very important that it be perfect!
After this, you should have a gorgeous ebook and/or print gamebook ready to publish!
Undead Rising coverIf that sounds like a ridiculous amount of work, maybe you should just enjoy a good gamebook instead. How about Undead Rising: Decide Your Destiny, now available in print and for Kindle?

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Filed under Editing, Publishing

How to Write a “Choose Your Own Adventure”-Style Book

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!*
Undead Rising coverWant to stick to reading gamebooks? Pick up a copy of my book, Undead Rising: Decide Your Destiny, a zombie adventure for adults!


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Zombies and Adventure! ‘Undead Rising’ Now On Amazon

Undead Rising: Decide Your Destiny is now available for purchase on Amazon for Kindle and in print! This zombie adventure is not for the faint of heart–or the humorless.

Undead Rising: Decide Your Destiny is available RIGHT NOW on Amazon for Kindle and in print!

Don’t you want to know—would you survive the zombie apocalypse? Undead Rising: Decide Your Destiny slams you into New York City just as it is struck by a zombie outbreak, leaving you to decide how to survive when your friends, neighbors, coworkers, and strangers join the undead. With more than 45 different scenarios, it’s tough to survive, but even when you die, sometimes you become a zombie—opening up new, monstrous options, including eating celebrities, being used as a genetic experiment, and exploring the Mariana trench. Every time you read “Undead Rising” you have the chance to change your destiny—but every scenario will leave you flipping pages to try again.

Note: This isn’t a kids’ adventure. I recommend it for older teens and adults who need a dose of nostalgia, a little bit of creepiness, and some laughs.

Undead Rising coverAw yeah, look at that awesome book cover! Zombies are coming for YOU!


Filed under Undead Rising, writing

Monster of the Week

Last year, completely without planning to, I spent NaNoWriMo writing a book about zombies. A gamebook about zombies, written for adults actually, called Undead Rising, where the reader has the option to choose her path along the way, changing the story for every reader. (You might have heard of a certain series of gamebooks for kids that carry a very catchy but copyrighted name…)

It was a ton of fun to write and I truly believe it stands a chance of getting published–and I even had two agents ask for full manuscripts six months ago (but I’m still waiting to hear back…)–and everyone I’ve allowed to read it has loved it. Even the two people who are friends-of-friends but are obsessed with zombies. Even they liked it, and that’s exactly who I’d want to like it, forget everyone else.

But now it is time for another National Novel Writing Month and… I’m not sure what to do. Help me pick?

If I’m going to try to keep to the same tongue-in-cheek style as Undead Rising, the monster/bad guys need to have a lot of pop culture that I can draw from (mock endlessly). I’m just not sure which one is best.


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Sweet Rejection

I guess I should have been careful what I wished for. Last week I was worrying that I hadn’t gotten any responses for various things I’ve sent out into the world. On Sunday, I got one.

Thank you so much for sending me your submission. I have carefully considered UNDEAD RISING for my list, but in the end it just wasn’t the right fit for me. And that’s not because I got eaten by the zombies lol 😦

I’m going to pass, but am so grateful for the opportunity to review your work. I appreciate how difficult this process can be and wish you all the best and much success in your search for the right agent.
That’s a rejection email from the inimitable Louise Fury, who had seemed particularly excited about my manuscript when I talked to her about it at DFW Con.
So now, as I’ve had experience as a lovesick teenage girl, I’m going to parse what she said for “hidden meanings.”
The first two sentences are obvious: She’s polite but saying no. The third one is killer, though–she must have at least somewhat enjoyed my tongue-in-cheek zombie gamebook (it’s inevitable you’ll die when reading it. That’s part of the fun, I swear!) She gave me a “lol”! She gave me a “:-(“. That tells me she was engaged in it.
That leaves the rest, standard ‘thanks-but-no-thanks’ language. That’s ok. It’s just hard to know what to do next.
I still have another full floating out there with an agent. I’m not sure what to do next (assuming I a) don’t hear from the other agent or b) she also rejects it); I know I sank my query battleship by trying to break the mold a little to be different (this was a catastrophic failure), so odds are good I could restart the query process.
OR, since it may just be that zombies are no longer seen as marketable but my book is still good, I may try to self-pub it and get it out around Halloween. (Probably wishful thinking at this point)
I don’t know. Tough decisions.
What’s your rejection advice?


Filed under Publishing, writing

Managing Expectations

Last week was pretty exciting, for several reasons. One was that a fellow writer I had met at a conference contacted me to ask if she could submit my novel, Undead Rising, to a publisher for consideration. I was over the moon!

She had only heard me talk about it–I’d given my standard description: a zombie novel for adults where the reader could “Decide Your Destiny” by making choices along the way, a gamebook (a genre best known by the Choose Your Own Adventure novels). She thought that sounded awesome, but I had sent her my sample pages just to be sure she really wanted to submit it; I didn’t want her to submit something she couldn’t really vouch for.

She looked over the sample… and it was not what she had expected.

She said:

It wasn’t quite what I was expecting from an adult version of CYA. (sic)  It was fun because it reminded me of the books I used to read when I was younger but I think that is my roadblock; it’s too much like the young books (except for the work references and swearing, it feels written for a pre-teen audience).  … I liked the story and I still LOVE the concept – I just don’t think this would fit with [publisher].


But it was actually okay. I felt a little over my head with the whole situation, so while it was exciting and a good experience, I think she was right to turn it down if she didn’t feel like it wasn’t the right fit. Better to get out of it quickly, before I got my hopes too high.

The thing is, I don’t necessarily disagree with any of her comments. In fact, some of what she said is exactly why I think my story is great. It relies heavily on nostalgia from the original Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novels (which were originally published in the 1970s). It would be appropriate for readers from about 15-up (but I still think it’s “adult”). It’s not horror; it’s humor.

It’s left me wondering if I need to tweak my pitch a little. How can I get across a sense of what this book really is? I still think most people would love it and that it would do well as a print book (I’m less certain about how a choice-based book would do on a ereader. More research to do).

Sometimes, looking at the list of genres, it’s very challenging to pick exactly where your book fits (particularly for one like this, that has some crossover elements). How did you find your category?


Filed under Publishing, writing

I’m Writing the Wrong Genre

I’ve seen two kinds of scuttlebutt online about “what to write.”

A: Write what you love and what you want to read!
B: Research the genres that are selling and fit your writing to that mold.

One of my personal rules is to maintain my own integrity, so I’ve been following advice A (which is how I ended up writing a 63,000 zombie apocalypse gamebook/CYOA). And yet I have fits of anxiety when I see things like this:


This is an edited version of a list of agents who will be at DFW Writer’s Con and what genres they have a particular interest in. (I added the highlighting and cropped out the agents’ names. You can find the full list here.)

The yellow areas are Middle Grade and Young Adult respectively. Look at all those delightful excited happy faces!

The blue area is science fiction. Only 3 happy faces and one big ugly poison Do Not Talk To Me About This.

Hm.. Zombie apocalypse. Gee, where does that fit?  Blue column of sadness. Maybe horror (it’s not really that scary, though) or humor (because being a zombie is funny!). Well crap. Those columns are pretty depressing, too, 2 and 4 happy faces respectively.

The agent pitch sessions are one of the most exciting parts of DFW Con, but dangit, I don’t think I’m going to have a lot of success this year. I’m in all the wrong categories. (Though I feel a certainty in my bones that just about every adult would get a real kick out of determining their own path in a zombie uprising book. I was talking about it with a friend in a restaurant and a passerby interrupted to say “excuse me, did you just say zombie apocalypse CYOA? Cool!”)

And my prior novel that I’m not actively pitching? Squarely sci-fi dystopia. *sigh*

I have no real interest in writing YA or MG (aside from a dalliance with The Boxcar Kids, as a kid I never even read books that would fit those categories!), but seeing this kind of heavy-loaded listing is depressing and has made me wonder if I should be trying something different. It’s hard to do while continuing that whole “to thine own self be true” stuff, though.


Filed under Conventional, writing

A World Without Gender

Image from http://raredeadly.tumblr.com/post/1473774370/tilda-swinton-as-80s-bowie-its-the-hair

Try writing your MC as if you don’t know the gender. Just like Tilda Swinton here demonstrates, it doesn’t always matter–your MC can be incredible either way.

Gender is a pretty fundamental part of a character description. Even the name you pick generally gives you a hint of who this person you’re reading about is going to be. Failing that, you can fall back on the physical description; dresses tend to indicate women (sorry Scotland!), while a manly man might wear weathered boots and heft an axe. And if even that is pretty vague, at least you’ve got pronouns to rely on when the author gets tired of calling the character by name.

But in interactive fiction and gamebooks, you, as the author can’t utilize those standbys. After all, your reader could be male, female, old, young, or, heck, even an alien. And since they are taking on your story from the driver’s seat, so to speak, the author can’t be telling them too much about who they are. After all, you can’t address the reader using “he” or “him” without thereby cutting out or annoying half of your prospective audience.

My novel, Undead Rising, is a gamebook for adults. The challenge of gender was one of the most interesting parts of writing it, because it stripped me of so many descriptive options. It was a helluva fun book to write, and I think all writers should give writing without gender a shot. It’s illuminating.

Of course, Undead Rising isn’t completely without gender; all the characters besides the reader’s perspective have gendered names, physical descriptions, and pronouns. But writing dialogue gets extra tricky when your No. 2 character can’t ever say “She did it!” in reference to your MC. And figuring out how to deal with pockets was surprisingly hard; luckily, it’s fairly common for women to also wear trousers, or my MC would never have carried anything around.

I resolved many of the direct references between characters and my MC with filler phrases like “dude”: “Dude, what have you been up to in here?” or “Wow, dude, you are such a great friend.” (I realize “dude” is technically gendered, but, at least among my friends, it’s used for either gender, not just men). The name problem wasn’t too hard, as the novel was written in second-person perspective. Anytime another character is introduced to the MC, I plugged in something like “You say your name.”

I even managed to write in a romantic interlude without any reference to the gender of the main character. That was a sticky wicket!

Gender is typically important to a character, but my experiment in writing a genderless character was very powerful. It really showed me how many things are universal. While writing, I imagined the character as male or female, sometimes one, sometimes the other. I hope that no matter who reads Undead Rising, they feel they are fairly represented.

How important are gender roles and gendered descriptions in your writing? Could you write a whole character without a gender?

(To see a real pro try it, read The Left Hand of Darkness, which is partially about an alien species whose gender shifts based on several factors, but most of the time is genderless.)


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