Congratulations brave writer! You made a smart move deciding to click onto this page.
You’re about to go on an adventure.
On this adventure you will choose how much you want to learn about writing! Today we’re talking about something you may not have thought about: writing Gamebooks (or ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’/Branching-Path books), and why now may be just the right time to get started.
So make your choice, brave reader…
Do you want to learn more about Gamebooks? Go to Paragraph (3). If you already know what they are, then go to Paragraph (6).
Oh no! Suddenly an enormous lion leaps out and gobbles you and your manuscript up, leaving only a bloodied limb and a few tattered pages of your latest draft. Sorry brave writer, your journey is over.
Though they were imagined long beforehand, gamebooks have been a staple of childhoods from the 50s onward. Designed to entertain ages 9-14, they were – and still are – role-playing fiction set in an adventure/fantasy genre, although look hard enough and you can find ‘ahem’ erotic literature in the gamebook format. They’re also pretty much the only fiction books to be written in the second-person (ie: ‘You walk through the door’) so that the reader is firmly placed as the protagonist. The most famous are Packard’s ‘Choose Your Own Adventure‘ series.
The story would begin with you and maybe a few compatriots starting out on an adventure, perhaps entering a castle, and after a few pages you would be afforded the choice between, say, going down into the dungeon or up to the tower. Further choices would occur as a result and the story would unfold in a unique manner.
These days academics call them ‘Interactive Fiction’, probably just so their colleagues in the Maths department won’t laugh at them. But there’s no need to be so formal about them. Writing a gamebook is a tremendous feat of creativity and imagination.
Do you think they’re something you might be interested in writing? If so, go to Paragraph (6). If not, got to Paragraph (2).
All of a sudden, a link appears! You click on it.
The future of the gamebook genre obviously lies with e-readers and tablets, where choices are made at a push of a symbol rather than having to flick back and forth through pages, and the technology available will make the sense of interactivity all the greater. This will, of course, further blur the lines between books and computer games (and make them a lot like text-based 80s nostalgia-bomb Zork) and some may not like that. But for many it’ll be seen as a great way to get children involved with reading and the power of being able to create a story. Because really, when you think about it, a gamebook is just a more primitive version of what we as writers do. It’s all about creating the story you want, it’s just that the choices are more confining. Now, go to paragraph (7)
Of course, you’re no doubt interested in writing one. Why wouldn’t you be? Making a gamebook is a lot of fun. Way more fun than making a normal story, because you’re not confined by the limits of one ending. You can have thirty, forty, different endings. It’s as much fun for you, the author, to explore every plot avenue as it is for the reader. You can kill off your character in ten different grisly ways AND have them reach glory. It’s the writing equivalent of having your cake and eating it. And we all like cake.
Though historically the majority of gamebooks have been for kids, they don’t have to be. Heather McElhatton’s 2007 Pretty Little Mistakes is an adult gamebook which managed to reach the bestseller list and spawn a sequel. Mike Carey’s brilliant meta-textual comic book series The Unwritten is for mature readers and features a remarkable Choose Your Own Adventure issue, all so the reader can choose which particular backstory they wish to believe in about a certain character. As an exercise in storytelling it’s entertaining and thoroughly novel, and would work just as well in text format. It’d be nice to see more adult gamebooks actually. How many times have you read a book and wished a certain character had lived instead of died, or fallen in love with character ‘B’ instead of character ‘A’? Our desire to choose doesn’t leave us when we hit puberty.
Whatever age you are, all you need to know is that gamebooks aren’t dead, they’re just keeping quiet. But thanks to a certain piece of technology they’re about to make a comeback in a big way…
If you want find out how Gamebooks are going to make a comeback go to Paragraph (5). If you’re not interested, go to Paragraph (4).
So thanks to devices like the iPad, what once was seen as novelty fiction has the potential to be something so much more. Something really exciting, which involves the reader, be they adult or child, with your story in a way that rarely happens. So why not give writing one a go? Or don’t. Really, the decision is all yours…
Image courtesy of mediafury.
Robert Smedley is a TV Reviewer and Writer. When not staring at moving images or being creative with ink, he can be found at any bar that serves a good martini.