Friday, January 2, 2015

Choose-your-own-adventure tip

The virtues of plotting become more evident for me every day. Gone are the days of winging it and seeing where the story takes itself. Hours are no longer wasted writing in circles. Not just for the story’s big picture, but short scenes writes smoother with a bit of planning ahead. 

The sweet thing about it, even with carefully calculated scenes, surprises still pop up. There you are, typing along, fleshing out the scene as imagined when a fantastic Plan B presents itself and demands to be heard.

I wish I knew who to credit for this idea, but during the recent NaNoWriMo, someone suggested a way to take advantage of diversions in the intended story. When new ideas pop, they said to do a choose-your-own-adventure number on them. 

Remember those books a few years back? Right as the action of the story would heat up and a decision had to be made, the author would stop and say something like what should heroine do now. If she should go into the mine shaft, turn to page 49. If you want her to continue climbing the mountain, go to page 54. The story moved in various ways, depending on which choice the reader made. Elementary grade readers loved them. They were great read-aloud books. My students would vote to go to page 49, then we would try page 54.

(I wasn’t a writer back then, but would love to get my hands on one and see how the author carried the final storyline.)

The point is, when faced with a dilemma in our stories, we can explore various alternatives in a similar fashion. During NaNo, when time was a premium, I found a way to do that, all along adding to the word count and keeping the momentum of the writing going.

When a new idea came up, I would change my font color to red and write: Choose your own adventure and make myself a note explaining the idea. Then I would type CYOA1: heroine goes into mine shaft and finds the missing child. I would switch back to black font and write the scene in that direction. Once that possibility was exhausted, I would switch to red font, write CYOA2: heroine climbs mountain and finds the missing child up the trail, then switch back to black and write the scene from that perspective. 

Silly, I know. But it worked. The story continued to advance without a stoppage or the story skipping a beat. Of course, that is added effort during the revision phase. But at least there is more time now to explore those alternatives and see which serves the story best.

It’s still working. While stuck the other day on another story, I changed to red font and explored the options.

(This article also posted at

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