If you fall in the quicksand, go to page thirty three

Writing Choose Your Own Adventure Novels

Like many children of the ‘80’s, I went through a big Choose Your Own Adventure novel phase. Do you too remember these story books, written in second person, with an option on every page: “If you open the door to the dungeon, go to page seven. If you hide in the cupboard go to page twelve.” Each option led to new possibilities and calamities.

I remember sitting on my friend Jonathan’s mom’s futon bed, reading the books with Jonathan as fast as we could. It was so great! No matter what happened, we died! But we got to choose: would we go into the dragon cave? Walk through the quicksand? Fall out of the airplane? Quicksand: I feel like there was a lot of quicksand.

I’m here to tell you that the younger generation is not too jaded or sophisticated to love the simple pleasure of choosing your own fictional doom. (And weren’t Choose Your Own Adventure books a form of proto-hyperlink? How cutting edge!) In fact, I’ve found kids not only like to choose their own, they like to write their own.

How to Write a Choose Your Own Adventure Novel:

I find this works well with a group.

  • First, I number a bunch of blank pages.

  • Then we start together, writing the first paragraph or so on the first page.

“You’re sitting on the beach on a beautiful sunny day, eating some ice cream. Suddenly, you see something strange out in the water.

If it’s a whale, go to page 2.

If it’s a submarine go to page 3.

If it’s a pirate ship, go to page 4.”

(If you have more than a couple kids, it’s nice to start out with a few options to get lots of kids writing right away.)

  • I give each option to a kid (or two) to write on their own: Here’s page two, go write about what happens if it’s a whale.

  • My main job is to be the keeper of the pages. When kids are ready to write the options of where the story can go from their page, they ask me for a couple of free page numbers. Then I assign each of those pages/options to a free kid.

  • I also try to make sure some options loop back to other pages, so the story is more of a braid than an endless unraveling. And of course, there are all the dead ends when people get eaten by whales, or have to walk the plank on pirate ships.

  • Eventually, every thread reaches a conclusion. Maybe even some happy ones.

  • Gather all the pages, illustrate them if you want, edit for spelling and punctuation if you want, and bind them together. (I like ribbon through hole-punched holes.)

  • Choose your own doom.

Choose Your Own Adventure novel writing is a fast-paced, action-focused, often chaotic and hilarious process that results in a book kids are excited to read and read. No better doom than one your friend or you invented! It’s the kind of writing project that can sweep up a reluctant writer.

And if anyone is ever at a loss, you can always suggest quicksand.

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