Writing A Choose Your Own Path Story

(Because Choose Your Own Adventure is actually a trademark.)

I thought people might be interested in what my zombie-fighting over-muscled dream-writing-instructor said about planning and writing pick-a-path stories, so here is an explanation and some crappy paint diagrams.

A trunk for the tree

A trunk for the tree

First, get a single stream down. This should probably the ‘successful’ plot, the longest one with the best ending. But it’s easier (says dream-guy) to build branches off the ‘trunk’ of your tree than to try to track all the story-lines simultaneously. The little lines are decision points, where your reader goes to page 17 or page 27 depending on whether they open the door or not, or whatever it is they’re doing.

Branches!

Branches!

Now you can go back to your decision points and put in some alternate plotlines! I’ve only put down four, but you can have more. Your alternates might have less positive endings in which your character survives but doesn’t get the treasure, or the guy, or whatever. Make sure that they have decision points of their own.

Character A is dead. Was it you or the alligator?

Character A is dead. Was it you or the alligator?

You can put in some crossovers! Say, giving a character more than one chance to go through a particular door, or letting a given character die in more than one scenario, catapulting them into the Character A Is Dead ending from anywhere on the tree. It lets you mix things up a bit more without having to write a dozen discrete storylines.

Stone dead endings

Stone dead endings

Dead endings are a must. Whether you actually kill the reader-character or not, part of the excruciating frustration charm of CYOA books was having to backtrack whenever you made a wrong choice. Go through and fill up any decision points that are short on options with dead ends. I drew them crossing over up there on the right – crossing over is fine. You can have half the dead ends be ‘you are eaten by a grue’ if you want, although that’s going to get a bit frustrating for the reader.

There! The plot tree for a choose your own path story. Obviously there are other ways to do it, but this one is mine and I think it works. CYOP stories work especially well in an ebook or web format, because you don’t have to keep your fingers stuck between the pages so you can backtrack – hyperlinking, yay! An elaborate enough story could even straddle the line between CYOP and text-based game.

I also worked up some diagrams for plotting an RPG style game (I have a somewhat major Dragon Age obsession) which I would be happy to share if anyone is interested.

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2 thoughts on “Writing A Choose Your Own Path Story

  1. It’s good except it’s too simple – each of your branches should itself have branches and so on, which becomes impossible to draw. What you need to draw it is the software which ancestry.co.uk uses for drawing family trees: when there are too many brnaches on the tree, and they start to overlap on the page, the software tucks them tidily away behind buttons so you can expand one branch at a time. And yes, you can cross-link, because one person can be on more than one branch.

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