The History of Choose Your Own Adventure
& Other Interactive Books
First conceptualized in 1959, interactive fiction has been a popular genre for many years. Also known as "gamebooks", interactive books are traditionally written in the second person point of view. Most plots involve the reader as protagonist in the story who makes choices to decide how the plot will unfold.
Beyond simply reading, interactive fiction is an enjoyable style to author and a useful tool to use in the classroom. This is in large part due to the versatile nature of this type of writing which lends itself to plotlines that can be enjoyed by just about anyone. Many authors have taken up their pen to write interactive fiction for both children and adults. For those aspiring authors who are interested in the genre, there are a multitude of opportunities to get your feet wet. For teachers, numerous resources exist to bring interactive books into the classroom, a marvelous way to engage children, especially boys.
One of the best known interactive book series is, of course, the Choose Your Own Adventure books (CYOA) which celebrated their 30th anniversary in 2009. This outstanding series has been translated in over 38 different languages and has sold hundreds of millions of books since the first book was published in 1979. In this section, we will take a look at the history of this marvelous series as well as the foundational steps taken to introduce the interactive ficiton genre to the world.
Interactive books like the popular Choose Your Own Adventure stories are usually written in the second person point of view. This style of writing involve "you" the reader performing actions in the story. See the example below to note the difference in the three possible point of views:
- First person ("I"): I go to the store to buy lettuce.
- Second person ("you"): You go to the store to buy lettuce.
- Third person ("he/she/it/proper nouns"): Frank goes to the store to buy lettuce.
As such, by using this unconventional style, the reader is involved in the story and allowed to make decisions at key moments. For instance in this excerpt from "Beer, Women, and Bad Decisions" by Shawn Harris:
Hit on the Bulgarian Chick. Turn to page 277
Hit on the Spanish Chick. Turn to page 5
You can see above that the reader chooses the course of action to decide which woman is worth his time and interest.
After a choice is made, the plot branches off to more decisions or various possible endings which could include:
- Many bad endings where the protagonist dies or is let down. Notably, in the Choose Your Own Adventure book #2 "Journey Under the Sea" by R.A. Montgomery it was found that when all the plotlines were plotted out, death and unfavorable outcomes were the most popular by far.
- At least one, but usually many, good endings-- riches, women, escape from a dangerous situation, etc.
- A few endings that are neither all that great nor all that bad
- Loops where the reader is redirected to the same page again and again and their only outcome is to start the "adventure" again.
One exception to this process is the rare occasion where the reader can NEVER reach a particular ending through the usual interactive story format. In the book "Inside UFO 54-40" by Edward Packard, the reader can only find the ending with paradise and living happily ever after by sequential page turning, something "against the rules" in most interactive fiction books.
In regards to length and number of endings, this is completely up to the author. However, an overview of the Choose Your Own Adventure series shows that early novels tending to have short plotlines with numerous possible endings. As the series expanded, the number of endings shrank while the plotlines grew longer and more involved. This fact may be something to consider if planning your own Choose Your Own Adventure novel.
Interactive fiction thankfully lends itself to a wide variety of subject matter. Initially, the readers of the Choose Your Own Adventure Series were male between the ages of 7 and 14. One look at the available titles from the 1980's and 1990's can easy tell you that.
However, since the original series debut, the interactive book market has blossomed to include books for:
- Younger reader series [old] [new]
- Toddler series
- Girls: "Fabulous Terrible-- The Adventures of You" by Sophie Talbot
- Adult men: "Beer, Women, and Bad Decisions" by Shawn Harris
- Adult women:
- Create Your Own Jane Austen Adventure Series by Emma Campbell Webste
- Miss Adventure Series by Lilla Zuckerman
- “Night of a Thousand Boyfriends” by Miranda Clarke. [new] [used]
- For Gay Men: “Escape from Fire Island” by James H. English [new] [used]
It's truly amazing how ANY fan of interactive fiction can find a title to interest them!