Choose Your Own Writing Strategy Tip #4
After being a nurse, I was a science teacher (yes, I know - Jack of all trades...) and during that time, I got some valuable advice which is equally important for gamebook writing.
When you first stand in front of 30 teenagers, your only thoughts are about you. What are you going to say? What are you going to do? Do I look stupid? How should I handle troublemakers? Me, me, me.
But the advice turned that on its head. When planning a lesson, it was best to always think about what the student is doing. So, I could be delivering a fantastic lecture but what is the student doing? They're just listening. And if my lecture carries on for half an hour, they are just listening for half an hour and that is boring.
How does that relate to gamebooks? Substitute 'reader' for 'student' and you're there. People choose gamebooks/interactive fiction/CYOA precisely because they don't want to just passively read a story; they want to play a part in it. Always remember that, when you have long, descriptive parts or exposition, the reader is just reading.
Now, don't get me wrong; description and exposition are crucial in order to develop the world and the story, but watch out for consecutive references in which the reader has done nothing but read. Just as teenagers get fidgety during lessons, gamebook readers will start to get frustrated too. Which brings me to another point...
Don't have unrealistic choices, simply for the sake of having choices.
You know what I'm talking about. "You're going down a corridor and there is a door on your left. Do you enter the room or carry on along the corridor?"
Yes, it's a choice but is it really? Are you seriously going to merely walk up and down corridors and not explore rooms? Of course not. So it's not a choice at all.
So how about: "There is a door on your left. Do you open it slowly so you can sneak in or burst through with your sword raised?"
That's better. We all know you're going to go into the room but this gives you something to think about with (potentially) distinctly different outcomes. You will be weighing up the unknowns - is something violent lurking in the room? Is it sleeping? Are there traps? - and this makes the decision-making more interesting.
Make the choices reasonable for the character and the setting though. Picture yourself in the situation and consider what you would do? What could you do? For me, it brings to mind the classic cliches of horror films - hearing a noise and then walking around to investigate WITHOUT TURNING THE LIGHTS ON! Who would do that?
Let's say you've gone into the room and "there's a man sitting at a table. Do you go to talk to him or would you rather explore the room for traps?" Now if it were an animal/object/other weird thing at or on the table, maybe exploring would be reasonable but it's a person! Of course, you'd talk to him first. It's a no-brainer. So maybe the choice should be about what do you say to him... Now that's something your reader can get stuck into!