Writing in 2nd-Person POV: Q & A with Authors Anna-Maria Crum and Hilari Bell

This is a follow-up to two previous posts about stories written in second-person point of view (POV). If you want the basics on what second-person POV is or why you might want to try using this writing style, check these out:

Engage Readers: Make Them Part of Your Story
Connect With Readers–Without Breaking the Time Bank


Writing Second-Person POV–“In the Trenches” With Hilari and Anna-Maria!

Today, we’re going to dig a little deeper into how to make second-person POV work–by talking to a pair of authors who are in the midst of writing their own second-person POV project, Hilari Bell and Anna-Maria Crum.

CoGlogoHilari and Anna-Maria are currently going through the submission process with one of the foremost (in my opinion) publisher’s of choose-your-own-adventure stories/games, Choice of Games (COG). They’ve graciously agreed to talk about their experience with this company as well as what it’s been like to work on a project that’s so different in so many ways.

Since these two are so excited about their current project that they finish each others’ sentences, I don’t identify who’s speaking in their replies. They’re definitely well-practiced at working, brainstorming, and creating as a writing team!

How would you describe the writing process for a choose-your-own adventure tale, as compared to your experience writing more traditional first-person or third-person POV narratives?

It’s been really, really fun–and the most serious plotting challenge we’ve had for years. You need to come up with three or four ways for the reader [the story’s main character in a choose-your-own-adventure story] to get through each chapter. You need to think of things that can happen early in the story and pay off later.

You also need to avoid situations where the reader can choose not to act, which means that choices need to be phrased as “Do you do x, y, or z?” rather than simple yes/no scenarios. And none of these choices can be obviously right or wrong–they need to be real choices.

No matter what choices the reader makes, the story needs to be structured so that he or she makes it at least 80% of the way through before reaching a dead end (such as death!) And the final chapter has to have lots of awesome possibilities!

How is the Choice of Games platform different from, say, the first choose-your-own-adventure novel, Edward Packard’s The Cave of Time?

COG stories offer choices so readers can personalize their characters. For instance, you specify your character’s name, gender, and sexual preference. You also pick a background for your character–say, one of these:

  • Farmboy or farm girl
  • Ex-card sharp
  • Ex-merchant clerk

Depending which character you choose, you’ll have different starting characteristics or “stats.”

These stats change during the narrative based on the choices you make. Success at different places in the story depends on your actions in earlier chapters. At the same time, you don’t want any single choice a reader picks to make a future task impossible.

Can you tell us a little more about what you mean by “stats”?

Every story or game has a different set of stats that get tracked. Stats sometimes occur in pairs, where a high score in one means a low score in the other. For example, forthright and subtle might be a pair of stats. A character with a high ability (or stat) for being forthright would have a low score for being subtle.

Stats can also include expendable resources, like magical juice or money. Players can see their stats any time they want, but they don’t necessarily know how a given choice will move your stats up or down.

Some games have “hidden stats.” For example [SPOILER ALERT for the Choice of Dragons book], blasphemy is a hidden stat in Choice of Dragons. If you decide to proclaim yourself a god during the book, bad things happen at the end.

One of the challenges in writing a second-person story is writing something that appeals to different reader types. Is that something you had to think about?

Yes–we have to include different types of choices to appeal to people who enjoy different aspects of the story. Some people read the stories because they like roleplaying; others enjoy logic and strategic puzzles; and others want to experience all the different possibilities a story has to offer. We have to structure the story so it will appeal to all types of players. That’s actually what we loved about it. It was so challenging, and freeing, to consider different possibilities for a character’s actions and motivations because we had to provide for all types of game players.

All types of readers want to feel like their choices matter, like they create a strong thread that pulls them through the story.


Any other thoughts you’d like to share?

This is a great type of project for collaboration because there’s no specific protagonist.

And we’ve had lots of practice brainstorming together as Plot Doctors—which is a business we formed (PlotDoctors.com) to offer story structure advice. There are a lot of good writers out there, who don’t quite get story structure, so (for a fee) we’ll take a detailed synopsis of their story, figure out where the story structure isn’t working, and offer some suggestions on how to make the plot tight and satisfying instead of episodic, meandering and unsatisfying. But all that plotting was great practice for working though a COG outline.

If writers are interested in learning more about writing a choose-your-own-adventure tale, do you have any specific titles to recommend?

Choice of the Star Captain was our favorite. It had a real sense of story, a thread that pulled you through the narrative. It was especially interesting because it presents readers with a genuine ethical dilemma. For all COG stories, there has to be a way to “win” completely, but it took us six to eight play-throughs to figure out the win scenario!

Here’s some more information about Choice of Games and their current writing needs:

At Choice of Games LLC, we’re looking for authors to write more interactive novels and multiple-choice games, in the style of Choice of the Dragon and Choice of Broadsides. Our games are like “choose a path” gamebooks, but longer, deeper, and richer.

We’ve developed a simple programming language called ChoiceScript for designing multiple-choice games. Writing games in ChoiceScript is easy and fun, even for authors with no programming experience.

We’re looking for freelance authors, paid in advance, and we’re also looking for writers to try our self-publishing platform.” —Choice of Games, Looking for Writers

Hbell2 crum_bio (1)
Hilari Bell writes science fiction and fantasy for kids and teens–and she’s really hoping that all the time she “wasted” playing D&D is about to pay off. Anna-Maria Crum has published 19 books in the educational market, illustrated over 50 books, and designed and run LARP murder mysteries. She gets together with Hilari for dog playtime and coffee in the afternoons.
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