Writing a Choose Your Own Adventure Novel by Elizabeth Galloway
I was ten or eleven when I first read a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. My siblings and I were in the back of the car, on a family trip to Warwick Castle. The book was House of Hell by Steve Jackson, and the castle dungeon had nothing on the horrors lurking within its pages. My lucky sister played round after round of Donkey Kong, spared the terrors my brother and I were suffering. In fact, as a coping mechanism we had no choice but to make our own ‘witty’ embellishments to the story.
We were still chuckling nervously as we pulled into the car park. Despite the sunshine, Feast ice creams and mocked-up pageantry, I couldn’t shake my deep unease. Eyes seemed to gleam from inside crested helmets. Was that a shadow . . . or some escaped monster?
In a CYOA novel the reader is the protagonist, so everything is heightened. Excitement, triumph, and fear are all writ large. This sense of personal involvement is why my skin crawled at Warwick Castle: I’d just been through a pretty harrowing car ride.
The Master Your Destiny books are CYOA adventures set in the world of Beast Quest. The reader must help Tom (the hero of Beast Quest) defend the kingdom from an evil wizard, and not one, but two deadly Beasts. I revisited House of Hell before starting work on MYD, and am still in awe of Jackson’s intricate plots and ability to horrify. But what did I learn from my own CYOA adventure?
Plan, plan, plan. Then make plans within plans.
Plot holes are waiting to ensnare you, but a detailed plan will keep you safe. I drew up a web of empty boxes, with each box representing a stage in the story. With a loose plot in mind, I filled in the beginning and end boxes, then worked inwards to the middle. The plot strands became more concrete as the plan developed. When you’re happy with your plan, you can start planning each individual stage. Make a lot of notes – you’ll soon forget that stage 23 needs your hero to sneeze if stages 64 and 47 are to work.
Spread out the action evenly.
Four Beasts appear in each Master Your Destiny story – two Good Beasts and two Evil Beasts. I split my plan into quarters and made sure at least one Beast appeared in each. I also found it helpful to allocate settings to groups of boxes, to make sure the story contains enough variety.
Include dead ends.
These provide the peril element! They don’t need to be a grisly, but should end the reader’s adventure in some way.
Decide what kind of choices your CYOA plot will reward . . . and what will be punished.
In Master Your Destiny, the reader is being asked to behave like Tom. Selfishness, glory-hogging and cowardice will swiftly end your adventure. It’s also a good idea to follow the advice of Elenna, Tom’s best friend from the Beast Quest series.
Check your manuscript against the plan. Then check it again.
Do all the plot strands hold together? Does a character appear in one stage, then drop out of the next? Have you accidentally trapped your reader in a never-ending loop?
So, if you like puzzles, I’d recommend having a go at your own CYOA. As for my House of Hell experience, I think I’m over it. Just…