Netflix recently released Bandersnatch, an interactive Black Mirror movie that lets viewers make decisions with their remote about where the plot of the story goes. To readers of a certain age, this concept should sound familiar—it hearkens back to the Choose Your Own Adventure book series.
Those books—originally published in the 80s and 90s and seminal to the reading experiences of countless kids during that time (myself included)—presented adventure stories where the characters were periodically faced with a choice: for instance, head into the haunted mine by yourself or signal for help with a flare. You’d jump around the book based on your decisions, so the same book could contain 50 or more different permutations of the same story. The concept was novel (pardon the pun) and imbued familiar escapades with what felt like real consequences. When you came to a life-or-death decision for your main character, sometimes you made the wrong choice and the results were grim.
To wit, I read a lot of these growing up, but the most memorable was a Batman book (actually part of a series called "Which Way," which was the same idea). I made an incorrect guess at the answer to one of the Riddler’s clues, and my choice left Batman to die in a phone booth filled with poison gas. I distinctly remember the room I was in, the sinking dread in my stomach, and the disappointment I felt in myself. Seriously! I killed Batman! Which, really, is pretty heavy stuff for a kids’ book.
CYOA books were a hit because they put you in control of the story you were reading, and they made you invested in the outcomes. I used to love them. So that made me wonder why I had kind of a lukewarm reaction to the news of a CYOA movie. Why wasn’t I excited about taking the reins of the story myself and making the characters do what I wanted them to?
I think the answer lies in the idea that CYOA, while a thrilling novelty, feels like an abdication of duty from the creators. Art gets its juice from making strong choices and exploring the consequences, so if you can experience every possible scenario or go back and fix a wrong decision, then there are never any stakes to make you feel the weight of something gone wrong or the thrill of success. Those highs and lows define characters, drive plots, and make for good fiction. Granted, not many kids care about those things, but adults who want a rich, exciting, or emotional reading experience definitely do.
While the technique itself might not grow into adulthood all that well, CYOA books are in fact a great lesson in building stakes for your fantasy, sci-fi, mystery, or adventure novel. As an author, you have to take charge and make compelling choices for your characters—choices that dictate their actions, change them as a result of the consequences, push the plot forward, and build momentum toward the story’s climax. Good citizen Michael Corleone decides to shoot a police captain, which forces him into exile, where he learns the “family business,” which leads to his ascension upon returning home. It doesn't tell every possible story—it tells one gripping, often gut-wrenching story.
In real life, there’s no going back and making different decisions; we live with the ones we’ve made. Compelling fictional characters are no different. POV Certified Ghostwriting helps you create strong, vibrant characters who make compelling choices—the basis of good fiction—and bring your story to life. Call (800) 717-3314 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a free consultation and begin your own adventure.