Choose your own adventure

I’ve always liked the Choose Your Own Adventure story concept.

If you aren’t familiar with it, the idea is that you read a page or a brief scenario in a book, and then you are offered an option to take the story in usually one of two different directions. If you want outcome A, go to page 27; if you want outcome B, go to page 90. Read and repeat until the resolution of the story.

Bantam Books: Choose Your Own Adventure

As kids, my brothers and I devoured these kinds of books. Admittedly, the plots were often a little thin, allowed little or no character development, and ended all too quickly (they were slim books to begin with). Occasionally we felt ripped off that, having read the story to one conclusion, we’d probably get little or no satisfaction from perusing all the other pages because they were just alternate endings. They weren’t building on the story we first encountered. They were possible futures, but they were sort of irrelevant to the story we’d first encountered in that particular context. But we nonetheless enjoyed our sense of agency in the adventure.

Currently in our household, there’s a Fable II game for XBox Kinect that has been going for about 6 months. Partner in Crime has worked his way through Albion, discovering his entrepreneurial side and, yep, his leadership capabilities. Fable is an example of a Choose Your Own Adventure that seems to work pretty satisfactorily. It fits its medium nicely, providing a visual story as well as an unfolding adventure in which you, the hero, choose whether you are (loosely) on the side of good or evil.

It’s an up-to-date version of the early days of text-based computer games like Zork, where you typed in a few lines such as ‘l’ (go left), and your computer spat back a reply such as:

You are in front of a house.

You see a rock.


[NB. The Wiki has a better example of this, I just noticed.]

As with all these kinds of concepts, you never really have the freedom to choose any option you can think of. You are in the hands of the Architect of Choice. Or the writer.

When it comes to books, there are a number of ways to enable readers to experience the text as an adventure in different ways.

Aside from the now expected different reading platforms (digital, hard copy), choosing your reading adventure can come in many forms, enriching the text, adding to the characters’ worlds, or adding a cultural context for the manuscript.

Some examples:

  • Extra information that can be accessed via the curated extras on an e-reader. I think of Penguin’s ‘amplified’ version of Kerouac’s On The Road as a good example of this Choose Your Own Adventuring. It includes sidebars with added text, maps of the road-trip, photographs of the areas written about. It’s a virtual tour of the manuscript that can be seen as an enrichment but also as a meta-commentary or meta-story of its own.
  • Similar to this is the concept of being able to buy a bundle of related information in digital form – regardless of whether you choose a digital or hard copy of the novel – such as the package offered with Melville House’s Hybrid Books. With each Hybrid Book purchase, the buyer receives Illuminations. “The Illuminations consist of highly curated text, maps, photographs and illustrations related to the original book.” [from Melville House website]
  • Elaboration of supporting characters’ worlds. This occurs in literature, where second and third novels or short stories follow different family members or different characters whose paths cross. I think of Alice Munro as the queen of this kind of short story, where she ranges across a landscape of characters and touches on one here, and another there. The reading adventure is an interesting one. In a digital form, this has already happened with Lyla, who ended up with her own website. That was kind of an accident, but it’s there now, it suits her personality, and it’s a bit of added fun.
  • And, of course, Games and Apps. You might not necessarily learn more detail about the world of the novel you’ve read by pretending you’re Luke Skywalker, but these kinds of add-ons give a different type of experience or agency to the adventurer. (Think Potter, think Star Wars.)

Obviously some of this is more work for the writer. But, on the other hand, perhaps some of it is just the scenes that didn’t make the final cut. When you’re writing about a world of characters, you have to know a lot more about them than just what they’re doing at that moment in time. Backstory is important precisely because character drives story. Place is important because characters react to it; it’s the world they inhabit. If you don’t know your characters and their world, you’re going to find it hard to write them convincingly. Whether you choose to elaborate and build on them and make them public is just a matter of preference.

In my experience, kids love these kinds of additional goodies. They love the experience of delving and discovering, and choosing an adventure. So, when it comes to Charlotte, perhaps it’s just lucky that I do too.

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