When I was a kid, up to age 16, I loved to play, master and create Dungeons & Dragons games. The thrill of these games for me lay in the act of creating stories, places and characters while designing and playing the games.
This thrill complemented and fed my drive to write, which by this time was already well developed. I was in fact outlining my second book, Oenn, and just conceiving The Lost Room during this time.
My association with Dungeons & Dragons was my first taste of publicly sharing my writing, an early form of a writing group for me. The interest of others for more of my games made me quite prolific in game creation and writing, and is a testament to the potential of good writing groups.
Role playing games then, though limited in their storytelling depth and scope, bestowed a special boost to my writing development.
Around this time, I discovered a single choose-your-adventure book, The Forest of Doom by Ian Livingstone. It was a good book for its purpose (I take it out and replay it occasionally), but it lacked the substance of comprehensive story and the collaborative socialization of multi-player Dungeons & Dragons.
The idea of choose-your-adventure books intrigued me. I still think about their potential, but also their shortfalls. For me, a growing writer bursting with story, writing full stories and poems dominated my attention and practice. Choose-your-adventures and even Dungeons & Dragons took a back seat, present but neither driving nor co-piloting.
The Book of Briars
Jump ahead a few decades to a couple of weeks ago when I read a guest post, How to Build a Readership & Sales — Before Publishing Your First Book, written by C. J. Bernstein in Nick Stephenson’s Your First 10,000 Readers blog.
I highly recommend you read this article. Nick says it himself, “sometimes, a story lands in my inbox that I just can’t ignore”.
Let me summarize for you. C. J. wrote a book. He had no fans, no followers. No one knew his book existed. And he bet his family’s financial stability on the chance he could sell it and future books connected to it. Sounds familiar?
With all the unsure, and let’s face it low yielding, ways of promoting a book and building a platform out there, he wanted to find a way to engage fans who craved The Book of Briars (his book) and writing, something that would really involve them.
So, he wrote a choose-your-adventure prequel to his book and world. Then a choose-your-character prequel to that to immerse his potential readers into his story world. And he advertised that, once, in Facebook. (His guest post in Nick’s blog serves as more advertising, as intentionally does this post.)
His marketing went viral. Strangers flocked to his choose-your-adventures and formed a society, the Mountaineers. C. J. not only grew a following but a lively fan base, not just people craving his work, but people already enjoying it and wanting more.
Hmm. Did I mention the interest of others in my Dungeons & Dragons modules? I know how C. J. is feeling and expect great writing from him.
Read C. J.’s guest post on Nick’s blog. Not only does it describe how C. J. came to market his book with choose-your-adventures, but it also describes the awesome concept behind The Book of Briars. And while you’re at it, enter C.J.’s Magiq world.
The Edge of Magic
As you may recall, I am writing a compendium of independent, contemporary, magic realism shorts, tentatively The Edge of Magic, that have been organized into a story world through a common world map, connected elements and a sweeping underlying story.
The underlying story is wrapped into cycles: the Possession Cycle, Keeper of Dreams Cycle, Trapper Cycle and Lost Room Cycle. Each cycle contains a number of stories.
(And for those of you who have been with me for a while, the Lost Room Cycle does indeed connect The Edge of Magic with my Stiefrasta stories. You might consider The Edge of Magic a coquel to the Stiefrasta world. It has in fact a specific and vital niche, a tangent point, in Stiefrasta.)
I have outlined and written several origin and connecting tales that bind the complete independent fictions of The Edge of Magic together into the underlying story. These tales bring unity and continuity to the compendium and the world. They also, however, fit tightly together, making them less stand-alone stories and more chapters. This has the adverse effect of featuring the independent fictions like out-of-place sore thumbs, even though the book is designed around them — they are its purpose.
To rephrase, the underlying story, which I meant to keep subtle, threatens to overwhelm the star fiction shorts.
Enter choose-your-adventure stories.
First, yes, I think I would enjoy marketing The Edge of Magic with a choose-your-adventure exploration of Tals, the world of The Edge of Magic. That would be exciting.
But, the concept of choose-your-adventures has potential in The Edge of Magic itself, as links and conveyors between the independent stories.
Grouping the stories in a cycle into a self-contained adventure that in turn is interconnected with other adventures so that all cycles and all stories are visited, though in any order, can bring structure to the compendium and underlying story. This would emulate Bateman’s dynamic object-orientated narrative structure with the stories serving as nodes.
I might reverse the role of adventures and stories, where adventures might become nodes (gates) in the compendium, rather than the stories being nodes (narratives) in an adventure.
Either structure would make The Edge of Magic a hybrid adventure-compendium.
Now, I don’t think I will do this exactly. There would be problems with those wanting to play the adventure stalling on the stories and with those wanting to read the stories having to endure the adventure. As I mentioned above, and as confirmed by the resources I provide below, choose-your-adventures are great for reader engagement and immersion, but are limited as media of alluring story.
The choose-your-adventure stories do give me an out from the interdependence of the origin and connector stories of The Edge of Magic. Even if I do not include choose-your-adventures in the book, just having the possibility of them allows me to shift the connectivity of the origin and connecting stories to the adventures, enabling the origin and connecting stories to stand alone, independent from each other and free to be written in a variety of styles and scopes.
I like this idea.
A Pique (Pun)
As a gift for reading this far into this post, I offer a short excerpt from one of my Edge of Magic stories, The Wicked Slaver. This is one of the origin stories for the book. The excerpt comes from page four of this story.
A deafening drip shattered Ceap’s thoughts. The drip chimed around the forest cavern, reverberating in the darkness and back to him. Ceap stiffened. His skin crawled. The drip fell into the dark water beneath him.
“You never could do anything right, Ceap. You couldn’t even walk decently without falling.”
The voice rasped into his ear. Even so it still lulled him. The darkness hid all other sound. Even the forest whispering was silenced. It had been silent for a while.
“Grab him and let’s get going. The sooner we are back in Andhorm, the sooner we sell him and make some money.”
“You hear that, Ceap? Drod’s eager to get you to market.”
Interactive Story Creation
- Branching Narrative: Choose Your Adventure!
- How To Write A ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ Story (four posts)
- Writing Tips: How to Write a Choose your own Adventure Story
- Designing Branching Narrative
- Learning logic with Sherlock Holmes
- Game Design Concepts: Level 10: Nonlinear Storytelling
- Emily Short’s Interactive Storytelling: Writing for Varytale
- Storylet Alchemy
Interactive Story Programs
- Undum (creator tutorial)
- StoryNexus (in maintenance mode, creator access to right)
- Inklewriter (closed in August 2018)
- VaryTale Interactive Books (closed in 2015)
- Haven (Twine)
- Cloak of Darkness (Undum)
- Choice of the Dragon (ChoiceScript)
- Worlds Directory (StoryNexus)
- Story Library (Inklewriter)
- Bee (VaryTale)
- Hymn & Shanty (VaryTale)