The Cosy Little Cottage

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Choose Your Own Adventure

This page is about interactive stories.

A novel or a film are a fairly linear, passive experience. You read/watch from beginning to end, and that’s it. An interactive story, instead, allows you to take decisions that will influence how the story evolves and ends.

When thinking of interactive stories, most would name videogames as some of the most sophisticated examples. It is true that ever more powerful computers and game consoles, coupled with budgets to rival Hollywood blockbusters, can produce incredibly detailed and immersive experiences. The next years and decades, with further refinement of 3D graphics and the advancement of virtual reality, will certainly see new exciting developments.

But to create a compelling interactive story you do not need fancy technology. In fact, you need nothing more than pen and paper, and your imagination. I will talk about videogames in another occasion, but now I want to concentrate on the most basic form of interactive stories, those made popular by the Choose Your Own Adventure series, henceforth CYOA. These stories follow the branching paths structure. You start reading as you would a traditional novel, but before long you are presented with two or more alternatives of the kind If you do X, turn to page Y. As you make further choices, the story progresses until one of many endings.

As a kid I became an avid reader of CYOA stories. They were not particularly complex or profound: it was just pure, unpretentious adventure literature for kids.

I remember that, each time I read a new CYOA book for the first time, I based my choices on what I would have done if I had been in that situation for real. That almost invariably ended with a gruesome death. I’m glad real life is nothing like a CYOA book.

My favourite story, needless to say, was a horror one: The Mystery of Chimney Rock, written by the prolific Edward Packard. The plot: teenagers visit spooky abandoned house. Not a showcase of originality perhaps, but it always works with me. Below is an image of the cover, taken from

The battered cover of a copy of The Mystery of Chimney Rock, my favourite title from the CYOA series.

Branching-path stories were also made popular by Topolino (Italian for Mickey Mouse), a weekly magazine of Disney stories of which I was an enthusiastic reader (and occasionally still am). The first story of this kind, published in November 1985, was Topolino e il segreto del castello (Mickey Mouse and the secret of the castle). It had many ghost story elements and, as you can imagine, I loved it.

The cover of Topolino number 1565, in which the first Disney-themed branching-paths story was published. “One story, six endings! For the first time in the world!”

The CYOA books have been reprinted and adapted many times, and are now available as ebooks. New stories of this type keep being written and published. There are also several free tools to create interactive stories, such as Twine.

I have read many interactive stories in my long life, and tried to write a few, never quite getting to the end (thankfully, if I think of the quality of my creations). But I feel like trying again, and this time, who knows, I might even complete my first interactive story, and then inflict it on you.

So run away before it’s too late.

Image credits: Copyright on the cover images of The Mystery of Chimney Rock and Topolino is owned by the respective publishers. Low resolution versions reproduced for commentary and criticism purposes, believed to qualify as fair use/fair dealing.

Published: Sunday 10 Jun 2018

The Cosy Little Cottage by the Merry Hermit CC BY-SA 4.0