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Choose Your Own Adventure is not affiliated with this program or blog post. Any likeness is used for parody and education purposes only. The structure of our story was inspired by CYOA, but the content is all original.
I’ve started to see an interesting trend in feedback from kids on my programs. When asked why she likes programs at the library, one kid answered “Because I get to have fun with my friends and not be on my device.” Providing alternatives to screen time is a goal of many of my programs, but I would have never expected kids to identify that as something they enjoy. Choose Your Own Adventure novels provide a healthy but comparable alternative to video games. I paired that concept with a creative writing workshop, and Write Your Own Adventure was born!
Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) books are appealing to adults because they’re packed full of nostalgia. I owned a Choose Your Own Adventure t-shirt before I was even a librarian! I have vivid memories of browsing through the tiny, sunny, creaky Flesherton Public Library with my arms full of CYOA novels. I also have vivid memories of terror when I chose the wrong pathway, and my character died. But of course, I just turned back to the beginning and tried again.
Why do kids love these books? Reluctant readers love the alternative to a regular novel – the short chapters and illustrations keep their interest, and the autonomy makes them feel “in control” of an experience they usually dread. Avid readers feel satisfied by how quickly they can blow through the books. And everyone loves the idea of “playing” a novel.
At Write Your Own Adventure, kids learned about CYOA novels, discussed what makes a good interactive storyline, and worked together to write their own CYOA book with multiple endings. It was a fantastic exercise in collaboration, storytelling, planning, and illustration. I highly recommend this program, and here is how I did it:
I ran this program in two separate sessions – kids could attend one or both sessions, contributing to the same final product. I would recommend having as many sessions as possible (could be a weekly event). The more time kids have to work on the story, the longer and more developed the final story will be.
Each session was 1.5 hours. We started by talking about CYOA novels – why are they special? What makes a good adventure story? How should each “chapter” end? Then we read a classic CYOA novel together, voting on which option to pick until we reached an ending. A few of the kids would’ve been happy to sit there and listen to CYOA novels all day!
Next I showed them the plot chart for whichever CYOA novel we just read. The plot charts (or decision trees) are on the back cover of the newly published CYOAs. I read them the introduction to the CYOA we’d be writing together. I wrote the first part, which is available for you to use: Write Your Own Adventure Introduction Passage
Kids paired up, chose a section of the story (and the corresponding worksheet), and got to work. In most cases, the pairs discussed their part of the story together, then one did the writing and the other illustrated. They were free to split up the work however they wanted.
After an hour of writing, the session was over, and kids went home. Behind the scenes, I typed up every entry, scanned each illustration, and formatted everything together into a “self published” book. I called the families, and kids picked up their collaborative novel.
I decided to create the basic structure of the story, since we were only running two sessions. If this was a weekly event, I would have guided the kids in creating their own decision tree.
It seems a bit complicated at first, but here is the layout of the passages: Write Your Own Adventure Plot Structure.
The basic gist of the story is the main character wanders into a library on a hot day. They find two mysterious books on a table: one has a hyper-realistic image of space on the cover, the other has an image of a jungle. No titles. They choose one book and get sucked into the story. The writers get to decide the endings to the story. It’s fascinating to see the different approaches – some wrote endings where the protagonist woke up in the library. Others wrote endings that continued on inside the book world. Give them as much freedom as possible to imagine their own plots.
- To maintain consistency, talk as a group about what kind of character your protagonist will be. Cover the basics like gender, name, and appearance. If you have a more time, you might want to discuss character traits and backstory.
- Time permitting, have a short creative warm up activity before the writing begins. Something to wake up the imagination such as Telephone Pictionary or Reverse Charades.
- Edit your cover to look like a parody of a classic Choose Your Own Adventure novel, and feature an illustration from one of the writers.
- Fill in the gaps yourself! Don’t worry if not every plot point of the story gets finished. I had to write the ending to one of the plot lines, simply because we ran out of time. Just ensure that the vast majority was written by kids, and that the kids felt free to explore their own imaginations during the process.
Other resources about similar programs
- Adventures of a Childrens Librarian
- Creative Educator
- Teen Services Underground
- Feel free to send me a link to your blog if you’ve posted about an interactive storytelling program as well.
Check out my other post about creative writing programs for kids: Creative Writing for Tweens: 9 weeks of program outlines
As usual, if you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment!