Choose Your Own Adventure

When I was a kid, I loved this type of book called “Choose Your Own Adventure.” Basically there would be a young-adult genre fiction story written from the point of view of a main protagonist designed to be “you.” But at various points in the story, you’d be told to make a decision for that protagonist along the lines of “If you choose to open the door and go into the basement, go to page 16. If you run for the garage, go to page 22.” There would be a fair amount of these choices and some would loop back on each other, but thus you had some control over the direction of the narrative.

I was a huge fan of these books, and they were reasonably popular with a lot of kids my age. However, I discovered as an adult that most kids read them very differently than I did. Most adults I know that were familiar with them laughed about keeping their fingers in pages at every decision tree (or else employing a myriad of bookmarks) in order to backtrack any decision that didn’t turn out well, constantly moving forward and backwards through the narrative in an attempt to find the “best” ending.

I found this ridiculous. You couldn’t do that and maintain any sense of pacing or storytelling; the story would stop being a story and just become a series of pages with information on them. There would be no connection, no risk, no danger, no setbacks to recover from. No thread running through it all, telling a story you could enjoy and connect to.

No, when I read those books, I committed. If I went to the basement, I went to page 16 and that was that. Sometimes I got eaten by a monster, sometimes I met my anti-matter clone and exploded, and sometimes I discovered the secret crystal and became King. And often I would read the books again, choosing different paths, but always within the context of a fully new narrative.

I think commitment to a course of action is a highly underrated virtue. Not every choice will be right, but keeping one foot on the deck when you try to jump into the water is a good way to get really hurt. More plans fail because you didn’t fully commit to them than because they were bad plans.

Choose your own adventure. But once you choose it, live it.

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