There are no rules on what makes a good Choose Your Own Adventure choice, other…
2. Urgency in Choose Your Own Adventure Choices
In the first part of this series I talked about using opposites as a way to write better choice blocks in a Choose Your Own Adventure story. In the second installment we look at how urgency can create even more engagement for your interactive fiction reader.
Urgency describes the need for immediate action. Urgency means there is time limit to how long one can plan. Urgency calls upon a readers gut reaction to move forward. I call urgency in storytelling “The Trash Compactor” effect. In Star Wars Episode 4, Han, Luke and Leia dive into a trash compactor chute to escape from Storm Troopers. A trash compactor is a safe place relative to a hallway of laser blasts. Without urgency our trio of space heroes may take time to talk, get to know each other, make a solid plan, reestablish who’s in charge of the group or develop backstory.
None of these scene options are wrong, but they slow down the story. Unfortunately for our heroes, but fortunately for the viewer, Luke is pulled under the debris filled water by an unknown monster. The heroes spring into action. Then, as soon as that crisis is averted, the real urgency trigger starts. The trash compactor begins closing in. There is now only time to make decisions. Urgency forces decision making and the decisions made get grace from the reader because the decisions were made under duress. Urgency forces decisions and explains bad decisions, or at least decisions that lead to more exciting plots.
Here’s a quick example I wrote that would setup a Choose Your Own Adventure style books choice block while creating urgency in the reader:
You arrive at the top of a cliff and peak over the side, the bottom is so far down you can’t even see it. All of a sudden the cliff edge begins to crumble away. You take a step back. More of the cliff edge breaks apart bringing open air towards your feet. Behind you is a path leading into the dark woods. You’re not sure it’s safe in the woods but it’s better than falling off a cliff. Just then large chunks of the cliff wall begin falling off disappearing into the expanse below. You loose your balance and almost fall over the side. The ground below your feet disappears, just before it does you force yourself to fall back onto the ground. You get up as the ground beneath you shakes, you jump back just as that area breaks off and falls away. You turn and start running away from the deteriorating cliff down the path towards the woods. You hear a screeching and see a giant vulture swoop down with its talons extended. You also see the tree branch of a gnarled old tree just ahead of you. The ground below your feet cracks and then falls away, you have time to make one solid jump. Do you reach for the vultures talons or grab onto the old tree branch?
Other ideas that help create urgency:
- A room filling with water, ice, heat.
- An hour glass or an hour glass room
- Gas running out
- Batteries running out
- Loss of light due to sun setting or door closing
- Two transportation options leaving in opposite directions.
- Medical attention
- A fuse
- A progress bar
Urgency creates action through gut reaction decision making. While a reader of your Choose Your Own Adventure style book can spend as long as they want on each page, adding urgency to your choice blocks will help create excitement and motivation for your readers.