Tuesday, February 05, 2008


I recently had the good fortune to speak in Portland, Oregon-- an absolutely fabulous city with cool writers.

During the course of my visit, some new buds and I talked about websites and blogging. They'd had this great idea (for Halloween) to do an online "blog story" run like the "Choose Your Own Adventure" novels. But they did it with multiple authors in a round-robin, reader input format.

If you aren't familiar with CYOA, these are books in which you come to a plot point and are given several possible options. You choose what you'd like to read next, flip to the appropriate page # and the story moves forward in that direction.

My Portland buddies reported that they'd asked writers from newbie status to bestselling to guest a "chapter" each day and provide 4 options from which to choose. The readers voted in the comments portion of the blog. Each night they notify the next writer on deck with the results of the vote and the writer has to continue the story from there and end their approximately 1000 word "chapter" with 4 more possible outcomes for what happens next. Readers vote, and you're off again.

Fun, huh? Yeah, well, they asked me if I'd like to guest during the Valentine's Day CYOA. Sunday night, I got my "story bible" for the action so far (I also read the earlier chapters). Then it was off to the races and I was scrambling to blend my style, where I wanted to take the story, with the funny suspense they had going. I was Chapter 4. And to my surprise the folks picked my option D, when I was so certain they'd pick my option B! (Oh, and they all seemed to think that option C meant the hero was dying rather than...well, I'll tell you in comments if you want to know what I assumed would happen if they picked C.)

If you'd like to check out the fun, go to ManuscriptMavens.com

How about you? Had any fun projects lately? What do you think about participating in an online CYOA and being a slave to what comes before and what readers pick for you?


Betina Krahn said...

Deb, I'm going to have to check this out. My boys used to love "Choose your own adventures" and the dh teased me about writing "choose your own romance"s. I think somebody, somewhere tried it. CAn't recall details.

As an interactive thing, it's wonderful. Have you ever gotten to a choice point in a book and thought "aw heck, she should have chosen the other guy"? On occasion I have. Or wondered what would have happened "if."

Cool. Will definitely check it out!

MsHellion said...

OMG, these chapters are even better than the Halloween version! I love it! It's like an episode of 24

Playground Monitor said...

Fun projects lately? Ohhhhh.... how about changing from my old desktop to my new laptop and dealing with Vista incompatibility issues? Tons o' fun! I've talked with lots of folks on the other side of the world with names like Sean and Brian. I've downloaded and installed drivers. I've uninstalled and reinstalled drivers. My Alphasmart won't work with the new computer unless I buy a $29 piece of software.

If it ain't broke, Mr. Gates, don't fix it dammit!

shakes off the anger and crawls off the soapbox

I used to participate in the Writing Round Robins on eHarlequin. I never won though I can't understand why. I thought my chapters were brilliant. ;-) My boys read CYOA a lot too. I don't think I've reached the point as a writer where I could pick up on the spur of the moment from where the story left off and then write a chapter with 4 possible endings. My hat's off to you, Deb.


Cindy Gerard said...

Sounds like fun Deb. When I wrote for Silhouette I was invited to write many books for their in house generated continuities. I suspect this would be a similar experience - working with something someone else has set up and then making sure you play connect the dots so the next installment dovetails. Wish I had the time to noodle around with it - I could use a fun diversion right about now. But then I wouldn't get my current WIP in on time. Why is it that work always interferes with play :o)

Debra Dixon said...

Betina-- My son never did much with the CYOA so this was my first real experience with it. Mucho fun! And I have had that awful experience in which the romantic lead chooses the wrong mate! But usually that happens in books not written by romance authors.

Mshellion-- I know! It's so funny and yet it's been non-stop action.

Marilyn--Oh you poor thing!!!!! I hate Vista. Just bought my mom a computer and spec'ed it with XP Pro which I love as an operating system.

Cindy--Whooschi! (That's a whip sound.) Just helping you keep that nose to the grindstone. Don't want your fans coming after me! (g)

Kathleen Eagle said...

The only thing I've ever done that was anywhere close to this was a Summer Sizzler project I pitched ages ago at Silhouette and was given the go ahead, even allowed to pick the other two authors. The idea was three college roommate meet at their 10(10?)year reunion, each story covers the same 5 days. It was an experiment with point of view, and it was fun. I worked with Patricia Gardner Evans and Marilyn Pappano. It was right around '90-'91, and I do think it was the first time it was done.

What I liked about it was that it was completely author-driven. So far I've no desire to do the continuity thing with the bible from the editors. The idea doesn't appeal to me. But in this business, you never say never.

Keri Ford said...

I remember my sister reading the stories. I couldn't imagine trying to write one. I'm afraid I've had my heart set on option A but the readers make me write option B instead. What a nightmare!

A fun project? Hm. I guess if you have to think of one, then I'm probably not involved in anything too thrilling!

Debra Dixon said...

Kathleen-- I'm with you. I'm not sure I could do the "continuity" the way Harlequin does it. I've held the hands of friends as they've done them. I think these days with email being such a common tool that the continuities are so much easier to iron out. And of course the Mossy Creek series has lots of elements that make it difficult to pull off for those of us who are "backbone" and required to make it all work somehow. (g) The outside authors have much more leeway than we do.

Keri-- I had my heart set on one option but the readers did choose a different one for me. However the choices the author before me gave weren't so completely different that it changed everything. As soon as I saw the options I began figuring out in my head what I would do with each one. That way I was ready to go as soon as the voting poll was over.

Michele Hauf said...

I've done the continuities and also writing stories with someone else's characters. A major challenge, but I do it because of that. Stretches my writing wings, so to speak. I'll probably to continue to do them when the opportunity presents itself.


That's one small little chapter, Deb, and having to work with what was previously written AND come up with for different endings? Oh heck, I'll pass and leave that one for the experts! :-) Very funny, by the way!

Christie Ridgway said...

I had fun during an RWA conference a while back when the Mont Blanc pen people had a book event where authors contributed one line to a book (I think that it was the book with the most # of authors in the world or something like that).

I've also done several continuities for Harlequin/Silhouette. There's a lot of fun in it because you have to be creative inside a box. It's challenging but can be a lot of fun and provides an interesting kind of satisfaction.

My kids had those books--R.L. Stine wrote some.

Kathleen Eagle said...

That's really what genre fiction is, isn't it? Being creative within the box. That's why masters like Shakespeare wrote sonnets. It was a form, and if you were worth your salt as a writer, you could come up with something wonderful within those constraints. Another similarity--poetry was literary (respectable!), while plays were commercial (entertainment).

I'd call the author-driven project a box within a box. The continuty based on the story bible might be a box within a box within a box. Then there's writer-for-hire.

But let's not kid ourselves--all commercial fiction writers must be willing and able to work within parameters. I think it's great to experiment with different sets of guidelines and challenge yourself to make them work to your advantage--just as Shakespeare did!

I used to use the CYOA books when I taught jr hi, beginning with the kind that takes you from choice to choice (no writing). It was a good intro for writing their own stories.

Debra Dixon said...

Michele-- Oh, yeah, it's a tiny "chapter." (g) Oddly, coming up with 4 new things to happen was the easiest part. But I did have to stop and say, "Wait. This is where the plot point would be." Then go back and use what I was already doing and adding 3 more to that spot.

Debra Dixon said...

Christie-- I didn't get in on the Mont Blanc book. Wish I'd seen that because I'm trying to figure out how authors could write a sentence a piece and write a book. The amount of time you'd have to take to read toward the end of the book before you could add your sentence??! I'm guessing maybe it was a very short book?

Debra Dixon said...

Kathy-- Yep, I think what makes the great writers is their ability to work within their reader's expectations for the form. Romance, Fantasy, SF, Mystery, etc.

It's about bringing your voice, something fresh, to the genre.

Darcy Burke said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Deb! Your chapter rocked! I knew your choices were going to be tough - as in they were all so good! I wrote a chapter for Halloween and they didn't pick my favorite either. We have such fun people coming up - I can't wait to see what Virginia Henley does with this next Monday!

And we loved having you here in Portland. Everyone left that retreat so jazzed!

-Maven Darcy

Debra Dixon said...

Hey, Darcy!

Yep, it was great fun for me. More than I expected. And I am quite fascinated to see what the writers come up with and then how/why the readers make their choices.

Helen Brenna said...

This sounds like so much fun, Deb. Wish I had more time to play with my writing.

But then I just got my new continuity bible for the 2009 NASCAR stories. I think that'll be enough of a writing challenge!

Helen Brenna said...

I think our chapter is doing something like this, aren't they Michele?

Deb, you need to come visit MN again soon! We loves you!

Erica Ridley said...

Deb! Your chapter was hilarious, and your choices were classic. I loved it. The CYOA cracks me up every time!

I had such a blast hanging out with you in Portland. Thanks again for everything!

Maven Erica

lacey kaye said...

Maven Lacey Says:

Deb! Come back! You are wicked fun to hang out with :-)

And we loved having you in our cyber-home, too. I'm so tickled you had a blast with your CYOA.

Debra Dixon said...

Look! My Three Mavens stopped by: Darcy, Lacey and Erica.

These guys are the bomb. I love them.

Helen-- I luvs MN too. :) But I can't wear out my welcome. (g)

Bridget Locke said...

Hey, I'm in Portland! Wish I'd known, I would have come to see you. :)

CYOA's make me mad, because 99% of the time they never choose the route I would have. I end up getting annoyed. LOL!

Bill Clark said...

Loved your chapter! Loved B - did my best to get others to love it too, but D somehow prevailed. Maybe in an alternate universe we can do B sometime? :-)

Debra Dixon said...

Bridget-- I know! Why won't people pick the *right* choice? My choice? LOL! Sorry I missed you in Portland.

Bill-- Amen, brother! I appreciated the effort. Yes, in an alternate universe we'll give B the shot it deserves.