my journey

Writing a Choose Your Own Adventure Book: Story or Guide?

I have been struggling with if Legend Tripping: A “Choose Your Own” Travel Guide will contain a story or be a true guide book. That’s probably confusing for some, but that’s the best way I can describe it.

I began writing this book under the assumption that I would follow the structure of every “Choose Your Own Adventure” I’ve ever read. That is to tell a story and allow for the reader to become the protagonist. I began writing Legend Tripping as a fictional story, which allows for the reader to become the protagonist.

I got four chapters in (complete with choices and paths) before I skimmed through Which Cult Should I Join? This book is a non-fictional “Choose Your Own Adventure”-style book, just like mine. This author’s approach is different to my own and, to be honest, I’m thinking this format fits my book best but is less creative.

So, now I’m stuck trying to decide on a structure for my book, which is slowing down the writing process. I’ve got the locations written, all that’s left is to put the book together, but I can’t do that because I can’t decide which route I want to go.

Let’s examine the pros and cons:

Story Format
Pros: Engage the reader as the protagonist. Give the reader other characters to care about. Immerse the reader in a different world.
Cons: Less emphasis on being a proper travel guide because the story might take over. Story is a vehicle for the “Choose Your Own Adventure” format and is therefore less detailed and could become contrived. Story could become somewhat repetitive as choices get more difficult.

Guide Format
Pros: Fits a non-fictional travel guide perfectly. Engages the reader as the protagonist in a more direct way. Still able to be a proper travel guide with this format.
Cons: Simple (Maybe too simple?).

I can’t really find any cons to what I’m now calling the Guide Format. It’s a shame that if I do end up writing the book this way, that I wrote four chapters of good story that I can’t use (My editor thinks it’s good story, but editors are your biggest fans, aren’t they?) There are significantly more cons to the Story Format than the Guide Format that I can see. So, I guess I have my answer.

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my journey

Writing a Choose Your Own Adventure Book: Mapping It Out

I have a book coming out October 2021 called Legend Tripping: A “Choose Your Own” Travel Guide. Basically, I wanted to write a standard travel guide based on a “paranormal road trip” I’ve been on. I thought it might be boring to write just your standard travel guide. I mean, everyone and their mother has done a paranormal travel guide (Although not quite with the same locations I’m exploring). So, I decided “travel guide, ‘Choose Your Own Adventure‘ format!” Now, I’m finding that just mapping it out is harder than it looks.

I give major accolades to the original writers of the “Choose Your Own Adventure” books. These are hard to write. It’s not the writing itself that’s the hard part; It’s staying organized. Staying organized is mandatory for this type of book, or you’re going to get confused and give up on the whole thing.

Here’s the way I stay organized; Instead of an outline, I map out the structure. I literally draw a simple map on a dry erase board that shows the choices I’m giving the reader and where those choices go in the overall story. I find it helpful to use a dry erase board instead of paper for two reasons: The dry erase board is much bigger than your standard paper and it gives you the ability to change things without having to re-draw the entire map or have ugly scratch outs.

I had a really hard time deciding which structure to use. I originally wanted to do the standard structure where one choice leads to two more choices, which leads to two more choices and so on until the story ends. This is the simplest structure available and is usually the one used for children’s gamebooks. Because this is my first time attempting the “Choose Your Own Adventure” structure, I didn’t want to make a complete fool of myself if it didn’t work.

Here was the problem: My “Choose Your Own Adventure” is for adults, which by default means the story has to be more involved than it normally would be for this format. Here’s another problem: My “Choose Your Own Adventure” is mostly non-fiction because it is essentially a travel guide. I have only found one other book that was ever on the market that was a “Choose Your Own Adventure” for adults and had non-fiction elements (and I’ve found that this book is no longer for sale due to legal reasons, so I can’t even read it to see the structure.) Essentially, I’m beating my own path here. This makes it more difficult.

I finally decided on a proper structure: “The Quest”. I found this structure after a bit of digging and realized that it’s perfect for the premise of my book. This structure is sectioned off based on geographical location. This is an example of the structure:

the quest outline choose your own adventure novels

Geographical location-centric? I’m doing a travel guide? Perfect! Of course, my map looks nothing like this one, but the initial idea was priceless. Okay, so basically, I have to start with chapter one (the blue box on the map). Give the reader a choice that takes them to either the clump of boxes at the top, or the clump of boxes at the bottom. These clumps are my locations. I have 12 locations, so I’ll have 12 clumps. The boxes within the clumps are events that are happening at the locations and each event has a choice. The choices lead to the other boxes within the clump until the last box has a choice that can only lead to another location. Repeat.

Great. I now have a direction that I can actually understand. You wouldn’t believe the videos I’ve watched and the blogs I’ve read on how to write in this format that were so confusing my brain actually hurt by the end of one 25-minute YouTube video. I have lost sleep in the past two weeks over this structure.

I feel as though I’m ready to move forward with writing the fictional elements of the story (I already have the non-fiction elements written). Now that I know where my story needs to go, I feel that I can now write that story. So, here I go. I’m jumping in with both feet.