“Usually, but not always”
Picture a single narrative as a bold, unbroken line sketched across an empty page. Now picture a narrative choice as a junction point in that line. Each choice leads to more choices: some choices go nowhere, some choices go back to a place you’ve been before, and some choices go somewhere altogether new. Sometimes, multiple lines can lead to the same choice, and sometimes, choices can form little loops, taking you back to an earlier point, but with a different set of experiences behind you. Now scream, and decide to have a lie down instead.
“I got tangled up as I tried to write the book,” says Packard, when you ask him about the challenges of structuring a single text containing so many possible narratives trajectories. “It took me a while to figure out that I had to set up a flow chart looking something like a horizontal tree, with each branch or twig representing a page, and key words over each choice so I could keep the plots straight and achieve continuity and consistency.”
Little by little, however, Packard picked up the hidden tricks of the genre he had helped to invent. “I set up a situation on the choice page so as to offer two or three plausible choices,” he tells you. “I didn’t want to have a right choice that was obvious. My idea was that you should be able to construct arguments for and against any choice.
“That’s not to say that the arguments should be perfectly balanced,” he counters. “My idea was that, like life, a wise decision will usually, but not always, lead to a good result. After constructing the choices at the end of a page, I would take each one and imagine what might ensue. For example: you decide to walk along the beach, you’re tremendously thirsty, and you find clams, which sets the situation up for two more choices: Should you eat them? Or look for drinkable water first? Writing the book, I would imagine that I made each choice and then imagine what the consequences would be of each, and what new options would arise. I didn’t think it all out ahead.”
Don’t eat the clams. Before you ask your next question – and I know it’s just brilliant - a runaway mine cart smashes through the wall of your living room, headed right at you!