In mid-December of last year, I had what I felt like was a brilliant idea. I was going to write a choose your own adventure story using Twitter polls. It seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, I’d watched the talented Joe Sondow start an awesome story thread about a raccoon. And I was at a bit of a creative standstill writing-wise. So I figured why not try it. But I needed validation because I was admittedly frustrated with how my writing was going at that point, hence leading off with a Twitter poll.
Should I do a choose your own adventure Twitter thread story?
— Tim: An Author-like Creature (@thattinywebsite) December 12, 2019
Ten points to the one person who understood the stop, go, Pennzoil reference. The story started in the very next tweet in that thread, so if you want to go read the story before finishing this post (as there will be light spoilers), click that tweet. I’ll wait.
Now that you’re back (or for those who never clicked away), I want to lead off by saying that there are several other awesome interactive choose your own adventure stories out there. I wasn’t made aware of them until after I had started mine. That said, once you’re done reading this post, I’d encourage you to check out the following CYOA story threads.
- Darci Cole’s Lexcapades
- The stories in J.P. Daling’s Re-Ding blog series
- Isabella Leigh’s story
- The aforementioned raccoon story by Joe Sondow
- Courteney Levet’s story
I’ve professed my love for choose your own adventure stories in the past on this blog. It’s part of what makes the Fire Emblem series appeal to me so much, particularly in its more recent iterations. I’ve played my fair share of visual novel games in my life because I love the style so much. I even went as far as to turn one of my short stories into a special reward for my patrons last year. Side note, if you want in on cool patron rewards, go support me. But that’s not the point of this post.
After two-plus months of working on this story (and still more coming), I have some thoughts on the pro and cons of choosing to write a choose your own adventure story via Twitter. Please note that this list may change in the future, as the story itself is still incomplete at time both of me writing the post (January) and of when this post is going up (February)1Normally I’d try to shift my posting schedule to make this more accommodating to when I’m actually writing the post, but keeping a more limited blogging schedule is one of my goals this year. It’s still early enough in the year that I really don’t want to fuck that up..
Pro – There’s interaction to drive (and inspire) your story
I want to lead off with a point that might go without saying, though it wasn’t something that was initially obvious to me upon starting to write my story. When I started my story thread, I fully went in expecting 3-4 people to participate in the story. On good days. It had been my experience with a lot of Twitter stuff I’d done in the past. And the first few polls did start out like that.
Eventually though, the story started to get some traction. And people started getting really excited about certain things in the story. One of the throwaway characters I wrote into the story’s introductory section, Jeff, ends up showing up again later because of how frequently people commented about him. This all despite the fact that he wasn’t supposed to appear again at all after early in the story. It’s a feeling really similar to when I published my 2011 NaNoWriMo project chapter by chapter as I wrote it on my blog. The interaction is amazing.
Con – You can’t flesh out the whole story on Twitter
Let’s take a look at one of the choices that appears very early in the story to help explain this concept.
Your name is Alana Quevedo. You wake up in a pitch-black room. You can feel a bed underneath you, but something feels strange. You think there's a chance you might not be in your own bed.
What do you do?
— Tim: An Author-like Creature (@thattinywebsite) December 13, 2019
Ignore the typo in the choices2Also ignore the leading tweet posted above it. The way mid-thread tweets post on WordPress is arguably my biggest pet peeve about the platform. Well, that and a lack of natively supported footnoting in the free version of WordPress. But I digress.. There are four different options in this poll, with three of them getting fairly equal support. In an ideal CYOA storyline, each reader/player would be able to make their choice and progress down the path based on that choice rather than having to be stuck on what the majority voted.
It wouldn’t have mattered in that poll specifically. It’s early enough in the story that the basic plan I had for each of the four options was essentially the same. But as the story gets closer to ending, there are some major decisions that will get made that will have a massive impact on the possible endings available in the story. The fact that I won’t be able to play all of those out on Twitter is a bit saddening. Granted, that means I may well have a Twine project on my hands down the line. But that’s neither here nor there.
Pro – It’s a great way to do a CYOA story — even with limited planning
I went into writing my CYOA story with zero planning. Hell, for the first six or seven polls, I was just making up choices with no plan in mind as to what would happen if people picked the answer in question. Weirdly, that didn’t stop the story from working. I’m sure part of that was because it was still very much in an introductory section of the story. But it was kind of nice to write a story without being overwhelmed by whatever was coming next in the plot. For a little while.
Con – That whole limited planning thing caught up with me quick
Right around day four or five of writing, I realized that in order to keep people engaged in the story, I really needed to come up with a plan. That’s not to say I necessarily needed to come up with the whole choose your own adventure story right then, but I did need to have more structure than what I had at that point. Over the next week or so, I came up with the basic shell of where I wanted to go with the story once it ended. Unlike a typical story, however, I couldn’t just come up with one ended. I took some time and thought about where all the story could potentially go and realized that if the story was told in all of its logical iterations, it’d have six distinct endings. If I truly built out the story in full, there could even be a potential seventh ending, though fortunately my voters made caused that outcome to not be needed.