How to write a choose-your-own book



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If you tell Mike about the photograph you took, turn to page A2.

If you praise Mike for his performance in the game, turn to page B1.

If you cut the tension by making a joke about your brother, turn to page C1.


There may be easier ways to write these kinds of interactive books with multiple-choice pathways, but this is the method I've discovered through much trial-and-error.

The first step is coming up with a concept -- and the jucier the initial idea, the better. When I started Your Best Friend's Boyfriend, I started with a basic romantic triangle on purpose, since the triangle is the basis for almost every romantic entanglement story.

Then I brainstorm, jotting down any ideas that come into my head about how a teen girl would react when she finds herself in the predicament of having a crush on her best friend's boyfriend. I fill up several yellow legal notepad pages with ideas written in every direction on the page. No idea is too stupid to write down at this point -- it's a free-for-all!

When I have a ton of ideas, I search for three big ones to use to create storylines. Each choose-your-own book has more than 15 endings, but there are three main storylines that branch off and interconnect.

Then I create a story flowchart. Without this flowchart, it would be impossible to remember which section connects to what. Here's an early flowchart from Your Best Friend's Boyfriend:

Click to see a larger PDF version.

Each of the numbered letters represents a section in the book. I planned each section to be somewhere between 2 and 4 pages long. You can see clearly now how the A, B, and C parts of the flowchart are the three separate main storylines, with lots of branches.

Once the flowchart is in place, I write all over it, matching up story ideas to the different branches, and trying to project how those ideas will link up with other ideas down the pathways. This part gives me a big headache!

Next I write the outline, which fleshes out the idea for each of the sections. The outline eventually looks like this (these are the first three sections):

A1 -- Start -- Soccer Field

Soccer game with Sally. See Mike for first time -- Sally's boyfriend of one month. He's hot. He gets embarrassed on the field by your brother, Peter, and you capture the moment on your digital camera. Sally introduces you after game -- Mike's even hotter up close, and interesting. You're struck.

Tell him about the photo you took: A2

Praise him for his athletic prowess: B1

Make a joke about your brother, to diffuse situation: C1

A2 -- Field / Newspaper Office

From A1. Mike says he would love to see photo -- he values honesty in art (and in life) more than anything else. You're thrilled, but figure nothing will come of it.

The next day, Mike shows up in your school's newspaper office to see you. You print out your photo for him, and he loves it for all the right reasons. He wouldn't mind if the paper printed it? He's a little embarrassed, but brave and says he won't hold you back. He has other interests besides soccer -- being a veterinarian, for one. Mike invites you to visit the vet's office where he interns on weekends -- he's something he'd like to show you.

Go with him to the vet's office: A3

Tell him thanks, but you'll go some other time -- you had planned to stay and develop some photos: E1

A3 -- Darkroom

From A2. Mike asks if he can stay and watch you work -- sure! You were planning to develop some black-and-white film you took with your Dad's 35mm last week. You go into the darkroom together and he's interested in the process, with much flirting as you wait for photos to develop. The pictures are of Sally modeling that you took for next week's student art show. You ask about her and he says he thinks she's beautiful, but he prefers you. He leans in for a kiss. Do you let him?

Of course! Duh! Let me at him! A4

This is too weird -- too fast. And what about Sally? You turn away and open the darkroom door to leave: D1

I write an outline entry for each section of the flowchart. Then I send the outline to my editor at Scholastic, Anica Rissi, and she and I go through it step by step to make sure it works, and to fix the spots that could be made to work better. It's great to have feedback from someone else at this point!

When the outline is in good shape, then I have to write the book. The final version was 45,000 words long -- more than 210 pages in Word, and 240 pages in the printed book. That's a lot of sitting in front of the computer, typing, imagining the world inside the book, feeling all the emotions, and typing some more!

At the end, when all the sections are written, the sections are shuffled inside the book. When it's all laid out and ready to print, we replace the codes for each section with the actual page number to turn to in order to continue the story.

I hope you enjoy the final book! You can read a sample of Your Best Friend's Boyfriend here.


Copyright © 2006 J. E. Bright. All rights reserved.