Monday, August 2, 2010

Choose Your Own Adventure

Sometimes writing can be a lot like reading a “choose your own adventure” book. Do you guys remember those? Do they even still exist?
When your character is faced with a decision, the choice that she makes will drive the direction of the book. But what happens when that choice leads you down a path that you didn’t really want to go or worse, much, much, worse, a brick wall.
Well, I’ll admit when I used to read those “choose your own adventure” books, I’d cheat. If I led the MC down a path that leads them to death—I would back up to the point of failure and go a different route.
I’m having a similar problem with the MC in my YA. Let’s face it, teenagers don’t always make the best decisions, and Poe is no exception. Of course, she needs to make poor choices along her road to growth or well, what’s the point of writing about it. But I am having to play around with the outcome.
Another area is a supporting character, Quinn. He has a bad boy streak, but deciding how much of a bad boy—that’s difficult. Is he playing her, or does he really care? His motives will drive the story and can determine how the whole book plays out.
So, I take a note from the “choose your own adventure” books. I take one path, write it, and then back up and choose another direction and write it that way. Now, I’m not writing full scenes, but I am plotting and planning. Exploring the cause and effect in an outline/free writing type fashion.
This little problem is new for me. With Iron Thirst, I knew how it would end, so it was much easier for me to get there. But with this novel, I have no idea how it will end. This is the most linear that I have ever written. But I’m working my way through it.
So, what are some tips you use when you hit a dead end? Do you know the ending of your book early in the process, or is it normally a surprise to you?  


  1. I always create an outline, so I know the path to take. But, that doesn't mean that I don't hit spots that don't work.

  2. Unfortunately, there's no formula for backing out of a dead end. You just have to wait for that "aha!" moment.

  3. I usually just do some more metagaming to figure out what would be the most advantageous path. Or to put it in chess terms, think out the consequences as far ahead as possible and the one that has the least wrong or the most correct, or a reasonable combination of the two is probably the best bet.
    Another thing to keep in mind, the characters only have the information in front of them. Have them choose in a way that seems consistent with the character and stick with it. Unchangeable decisions are what make life what it is, even if it means several chapters of undoing damage.


  4. This technique is so much easier in fiction.
    I'd like the opportunity to track back and make alternate choices in real life too.

  5. I loved those choose your own adventure books. I recently handed my stash down to my son. :)

    I've written both ways. Ideally, I'd rather know the ending and write towards it. I write much faster and productively when that's the case.

    When I hit a dead end, I usually sleep on it, tracking back in my head to see if there is a better path to take or if that dead end is really an ah ha moment in disguise. Most often they are, either telling me something major about the character or making me dig deep to get them out of that situation without going backwards.

  6. ooh i totally cheated on those books. I didn't want to read the whole thing over again and i wanted to make sure i read all the choices

  7. With my first novel, I knew the ending and beginning at the start. I spent my time filling in the middle.

    I never heard of "Chose Your Own Adventure" but I see with deep clarity why you'd liken it to writing :)