By late summer 2020, I needed a fun and silly creative project. There were two ideas I’d been kicking around for quite a while: writing a gamebook and writing a book about two friends named after my grandmothers, Audrey and Esther. Putting those ideas together seemed like a perfect solution.
I had no idea how to write a gamebook, but that wasn’t going to stop me. In fact, I decided to make it trickier by mixing in tropes from three different genres: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and RomCom. I called my creation a Twist Your Fiction Storybook and titled this first book Audrey & Esther Geekify Greenville.
I’m often asked how I managed to pull together this crazy storybook–which includes three genres, 22 possible endings, and even a time loop. So, for the first time, I’m sharing some of the method to my madness.
What is a Gamebook?
Gamebook is the term for a book that lets readers make choices about where the story will lead. You may know the style as a “choose your ending” or “pick your path” book.
When it comes to writing a gamebook, there are a lot of moving parts! Especially with my ambitious idea of blending in tropes from three different genres. I’m sure there are many places you can go to learn about writing a traditional gamebook. I didn’t go that route. Instead, I dove in and made up my own process, which mainly involved creating charts and outlines.
Before I get into that, it may help to have an overview of the story…
Audrey & Esther Geekify Greenville
Audrey and Esther are friends who are spending a weekend at a small-town pop-culture convention called Geekify Greenville. Audrey is selling knit and crochet crafts in the con’s artist alley, while Esther is helping out as a volunteer. They are staying in the hotel where the con is being held, giving them plenty of time for wacky hijinks.
The stories in this book are silly. Depending on your choices, you may run into aliens, wizards, romance, or heartbreak. More likely, you’ll find stories that blend lots of those elements. Sometimes you’ll save the world, and sometimes you won’t. When you finish one story, you can start over and find your way through a new adventure!
Blending Three Genres
My planning for this book revolved around the idea of having stories from three genres. Yet, the mixing of these genres meant I also needed storylines that blended the genres in multiple ways.
To get started, I came up with three main story tracks: Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and RomCom. After outlining a simple story for each, I came up with three more tracks: Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Sci-Fi/RomCom, and Fantasy/RomCom. Simple stories for those tracks combined elements of two genres.
Yet, those six basic tracks weren’t enough because the options at the end of each section could send readers bouncing from track to track. That meant, I had to carefully plot out sections that would bridge different story arcs, including necessary information that you may not have gotten from another section but also staying vague enough that the info you might not need in your current story adventure would simply seem like background or maybe a red herring.
It essentially meant writing a bunch of short stories that could be broken up and slotted together like jigsaw puzzles. If that sounds hard, it was! But it was also a lot of fun!
The Primary Plan
To keep everything straight, I needed a visual map of the story sections. Here’s a screen capture from the center of my primary plan:
Each block represents a separate section from the book. You’ll notice they’re all color-coded and have initials that correspond to one of the six tracks I mentioned above. The black square in the center (1-SFR) is the first page of the book and each of the tracks move out from there, sort of like spokes on a wheel. Arrows point to the two options a reader could take from any section and a black outline shows a section that is a story ending.
You may also notice shaded areas grouping some blocks together. Those shaded areas show the general time of the blocks. Events happen in some distinct times: Saturday morning (before the con opens), Saturday morning (after the con opens), Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening, after midnight Saturday, and Sunday. Those shadings made it easier for me to keep track of which events could happen before or after other events.
You’ll also notice I’m not sharing the entire primary plan. A magician doesn’t give away all her tricks! But hopefully this gives you some idea of how I kept track of this crazy puzzle of stories. Of course, a map like this is only part of the planning. I also needed outlines of the actual story points.
The Story Outlines
Outlines keep all of my novels on track, so it made sense to use them to organize the stories in this gamebook. I use a spreadsheet for my outlines and, for this project, I had multiple sheets to sort out various parts of the story. I had a primary outline that listed out all the sections with their possible choices, using the codes I’d created on my primary plan.
I also had outlines for the 4 to 6 possible paths/endings for each of the three main tracks (without blending in other genres). I did try to create outlines of all the possible paths once the genres mixed, but that got out of hand really fast! Plus, I realized that I could track those paths easily enough with my primary plan and primary outline.
The Finished Book
As you can see, there was a bit of planning involved in this project! It was a crazy, ambitious idea, and I’m happy with the way it turned out. I would love to write some more books taking Audrey and Esther on new genre-twisting adventures.