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Branching Plot Novels: How-to

Otherwise known as a Choose Your Own Adventure, although that title for them is trademarked so sometimes they’re also known as a Decide Your Own Adventure, but they’re all forms of Branching Plot Story.

As most of you are aware, I’ve been writing my very own Branching plot novel and blogging it (see all the Angel of the Sands episodes if not) and I have been putting together the parts not chosen in the background as we’ve gone along. It’s not the first time I’ve written a story like this and allowed readers to decide what they’d like to happen next, but it is the first time I’ve tried to put together all the different possibilities into one file to potentially publish.

When I looked into how to go about making a branching plot novel I didn’t find that much information. I found quite a few blogs and websites that talked about the flow of the different branches and how they’ve evolved in the book that were published through the years, but little that went through how to design one from scratch, so I thought I’d blog about how I did it.

Left and up a little is a snapshot of the way I mapped it out so I could see all the branches on one piece of paper. According to the pictures of the others I saw this is a lot more complicated than most are, but hey, I like complicated. One thing I noticed early on was that I had way too much plot and far too many options. It really helps to have an idea of the end point and try to keep it so the branches come back to those points.

To keep the plot straight in my head as I built the tree diagram of the options I also created a word document with the corresponding numbers at the top of each page and an outline of what it needed to cover as well as the options and which number they led to. I essentially wrote out a detailed outline of the plot as I was mapping it, which is something new for me. Normally I have a basic outline not a detailed one, but I found I really needed it.

I also marked the sections on the tree where the same event happens but with variations, so I knew that all the branches had to eventually pass through these. Like a particular attack that happens regardless of everything that’s come before. Despite all my branches there are only 4 different versions of the attack and somehow all the branches come together at those 4 points and feed through. Likewise with a ceremony. All these are circles on the map and I’ve labeled them. In the picture you can see a few marked C, these are ceremony points.

The boxes are where it goes to another number in the tree but it’s too far away so I’m not drawing an arrow and making it messier and then finally the triangles are my endings. I have 11 of them if you count the two deaths. It was a few more than I wanted but I found I had to stop my plot sooner, so there’s lots of endings of various degrees of awesome.

So my advice on making a branching plot novel. Keep the plot fairly short. No more than a 10k story if you only went through one set of branches, keep your options to smaller numbers and keep bringing them back in towards pivotal moments so your branches are regularly trimmed down and don’t overload you. And come up with some sort of system so you know where the branches lead, like the tree I drew or your own equivalent. Also, if you don’t particularly like the idea of doing it all yourself, there does seem to be this handy software. I’ve not tried it but I have heard good things about it.

Angel of the Sands: Part 13

You shake your head and look down. You cannot accept his proposal when you know so little about him. At first you worry that he might not react well to the rejection but after a few seconds he shrugs and picks up his chalice.

“No matter. It was worth my asking. Either way you shall lead our people to greatness.” Here he pauses and raises the drink as if to toast. “To a wonderful future.”

You echo his words and drink the wine from your own cup. As soon as it’s gone you place the cup on the nearest surface and get to your feet.

“I have had a long day and wish to get some sleep. I will return to my own tent now,” you say and give him a respectful nod of your head. “Thank you for your hospitality.”

The Khaad smiles in return and follows you towards the exit of his tent. He reaches his arm across the opening as if to draw the flap back for you but pauses, blocking your way instead.

“I understand your reluctance to marry so soon after your arrival, but I fear for you, Angel. The other Khaad’s intentions may not be honourable. I insist that one of my riders accompany you, just until you’ve married or joined the Khaadain. To help keep you safe.”

After hesitating for a moment you nod and accept his offer of protection. You suspect it might be the only way to get out of the tent, but it’s also an interesting offer. Although, you’re not sure what good it might do you, the extra person might come in handy some day, and might know some English to help you communicate with your slaves.

As soon as you’ve given him your answer he sweeps back the tent flap and lets you out. He follows you and calls up one of his dempair.

“This is Gragoro. He will keep you safe,” the Khaad says to you and then mentions something to the new man. He towers above you and carried several swords at his waist but bows a moment later.

“I will protect,” he says haltingly. You nod and thank him and then do the same the Khaad. With the pleasantries done you make your way out of the tribal camp and back towards the Khaadain. Unlike earlier, few people notice your passing and you have to rely on Gragoro to give you directions when you don’t know exactly where your own tent had been set up, but you reach your own haven eventually and step inside.

You’re about to sigh with relief when you see the fifteen slaves you’ve been given are lined up in three rows right in the middle of the tent. As you suspected you’ve been given so much that only a small walkway allows for travel except for the space in the middle where they stand. You also quickly realise that there’s no bed and they’ve fashioned you some kind of makeshift mattress from piles of pillows, all kept in place by the stacked boxes of clothes, jewellery and other assorted items.

“Thank you,” you say, knowing they’re not likely to understand you anyway. You follow it with a smile and scan their faces. A few return the gesture but most look blankly at some point in the distance as if they’re not really there. “I’d like to sleep now.”

At first, none of them move. Eventually one steps forward and bows, bending one knee as he does.

“Angel, I am, Jareen, the most trusted slave of Khaad Ventral. He gave me the great honour of learning the language of the Angels. May I be of assistance in instructing your slaves to do your biding?”

You nod, glad that someone among the slaves you own can understand you so well.

“This is Gragoro. I think he’s the first to form my own dempair,” you say, not sure if the term is correct but hoping it is. Jareen nods and the two men exchange a few words in their own language.

“I’d really like to get some sleep, I’m exhausted,” you say and smile at your new slaves. Jareen bows as do all of the other slaves and after a few words, all but one file out of the tent, leaving you with a teenage girl. She motions for you to follow her towards your bed and then helps you change into the nightwear you were given only a few hours earlier.

It doesn’t take long for you to fall asleep after all the events of the day.

***

As the sound of something glass smashing comes to your ears, you’re jolted out of your sleep. You blink groggily at your surroundings, confused at first, but soon realise you are in your personal tent. The metallic clang of swords hitting each other breaks the silence again and you hurry up from the bed and grab the nearby robe, your servant had placed nearby.

When you’re decent you hurry out of the tent and find Gragoro and Jareen locked in a fight. Both are yelling at each other and Gragoro hesitates when he sees you. This allows Jareen a chance to lunge forward. His sword goes right through Gragoro, cutting the man’s chest and heart open, but the slave impales Jareen’s stomach, sending blood flying from both of them.

Both collapse on the ground and Gragoro is dead before he hits the earthen floor. You rush to Jareen who clutches at the wound, trying to stop the flow of blood, but it does little to help. When you crouch at his side, he frowns.

“What happened?” you ask, not entirely sure that you want an answer.

“Forgive us, Angel. Both our Khaad’s wanted you. I shouldn’t have agreed, But your safe…” His voice trails off for a moment and he grits his teeth in pain.

You notice your slaves have gathered around and are looking at the scene with wide eyes, but you don’t know what to do. You’re no doctor and you don’t know who to trust any more.

“Forgive us, please?” Concern fills his face and he reaches out to you with his less bloody hand. “Please, Angel?”

You nod, not sure what else to do.

“You’re forgiven. Both of you.” he closes his eyes in response and doesn’t seem to notice when you remove your wrist from his grip. You have no idea how much longer he’ll live, if he’s even conscious any more.

“Make Jareen comfortable,” you say to the nearest servant, but he stares at you and blinks a couple of times. You try a few motions that the slave might understand but you get the same blank look. As you try another slave nearby they start whispering among themselves and ignore you altogether.

You begin to shake and soon find the young slave who helped you to bed the night before coming towards you with a blanket in your arms. Of all of the slaves around you she seems to have more awareness and less shock at the bloodshed. You smile your thanks. Not far behind her comes one of the elder women who helped you get ready for the ceremony earlier. Your young slave must have fetched her from the Khaadain.

Instantly she begins to bark orders at the stationary slaves and several of them spring into action. With them all hurrying about she comes up to you and takes your hands.

“I’m sorry this happened on your first night, Angel, but you are safe. We will take you into the Khaadain area. It is our most sacred and we can protect you there. Come.” Like a mother hen she puts her arm around you and gently steers you in the direction you need to go. You don’t resist, but let her take you deeper into the Khaadain’s living area.

She takes you to another tent, similar to your own and only then do you realise the slave girl followed as well.

“You’re in good hands with this one,” the Khaadain elder says before she leaves you. You’re helped into bed once more and left alone again.

You’re not as tired as you thought you would be and you find yourself thinking over your arrival with these people and all the events since. Although some interesting things have happened and you’ve met quite a few new people, you aren’t sure if this was the best way things could have gone.

You’re being protected by old men and boys in a small tent in the middle of a tribal nation’s sacred grounds. Even if you’ve not officially joined the Khaadain, you might look like you have, but events just seemed to lead here, and you have no idea if the Khaads will let you be or not, but you suspect it is going to put a damper on their interest in you. They may even go back to their usual nomadic lifestyle and leave you there.

Whatever the future brought you knew it wouldn’t be quite what you’d hoped.

The End

I hoped you’ve enjoyed reading the Angel of the Sands story. I know 13 parts isn’t particularly the longest of stories, but I found when I put the entire set of branches together up to this point I had at least 400 pages of story and realised if I ever wanted to put all the options together in one book I needed to bring this to a closing point and consider having sequels. To that end I’ll be taking a break while I work on that exact novel and get it finished and published. Then, when you can go through the many various options as many times as you like I’ll consider carrying on here.

Angel of the Sands: Part 12

Wanting to enjoy yourself you decide to ignore the Khaadain and motion for the servants nearby to bring you more food and drink instead.

They soon get the meaning of your actions and another platter of spiced, roasted meat is brought to you along with a slightly less ornamental goblet. Within it is a different drink that doesn’t taste quite so alcoholic and bitter but you know it’s still likely to get you drunk if you kick back too much of it.

Another half an hour ticks by and you’re starting to get bored of sitting by yourself when one of the more popular Khaads gets up and comes over to you, leaving his dempair and entire tribe behind. A lull comes over the conversations and background noise although it doesn’t disappear entirely.

After giving you a slight bow he sits near your feet and leans in to talk. You give him your attention and try to ignore the eyes all focused on the pair of you. He has a deep black moustache which frames the top of his mouth and his skin is a little darker than Temullgei’s. He also sits a little taller, but less muscles adorn his bare chest and arms.

“Angel, are you enjoying this feast?” he asks. You nod, not sure you could answer in any other way. “We are blessed to have an Angel among us of such beauty.”

He pauses and gazes at you for a moment. You don’t reply, having heard similar things from Temullgei.

“I hope you have been happy in your short time with us so far?”

Again you nod.

“I understand that Temullgei found you and brought you to the Khaadain. I hope he took great care of you?”

“He did his best,” you finally say.

“I’m sure he did… If you get bored of the feast or wish for a more relaxed atmosphere, I would be honoured to have you visit me for a private audience this evening. I can assure you that my personal gerd is most comfortable.”

“Thank you for the invitation. I will consider the offer.” You smile and he gets up. You realise that everyone around you must have lost interest in watching during that conversation except for Temullgei who looks even more annoyed than he did before.

You wait for a few more minutes, not sure what to do and eventually the Khaadain catch your eye. You watch as they pour more of the previous substance into the same goblet and realise they thought you were wanting the ceremony to end.

A few seconds later they bring the cup to you and place it in your hand. After pausing and taking a deep breath you stand and hold the goblet high one last time. Hoping this will be the last time you ever have to drink the foul stuff you gulp it down again.

A final loud cheer fills the night air when you’re done. You then hand the cup back and begin the slow but welcome walk out of the circle and towards your bed. The tribe men and women part as you come towards them but only enough for you to walk through the gap. As you pass many reach out and stroke your arms and shoulders while a few women even stroke your hair.

At first this makes you feel uncomfortable, but the contact remains gentle and the sea of people parts before you without resistance no matter how deep you get.

You’re just about to decide whether to make your way towards Khaad Benrah’s gerd or your own when he appears to one side of you and takes your arm in his. While smiling at the crowds he gently guides you along towards his tent.

His dempair and servants follow on behind you until you reach his tent. The closest servant holds open the flap for you and you step into the warm insides. A large fire sits in the middle of the largest tent you’ve ever seen, with soft, fur covered cushions. Near that is more food, evidently already prepared by his servants. All the furniture, including the bed is made from ornately carved wood with gemstones laid into it. You’ve never seen so much wealth in one place.

“Come, sit,” he says and guides you to the soft area near the fire. He makes himself comfortable beside you and his servant pours wine into two chalices, almost as ornate as the ceremonial one you drank from earlier.

He hands you one and smiles at you. Without waiting for further instruction his servants all hurry out and you find yourself alone with Benrah.

“I am honoured that you have granted this private audience. I had barely dared to hope that I would get to meet an Angel one day. And here you are.” He smiles, yet again and you hesitate. Being repeatedly praised doesn’t make conversation easy.

“Here I am,” you say, a moment later. He seems to be struggling to get to the point of his request.

“I know this is very bold of me, but I know Khaad Temullgei has already asked you to be his wife, and we barely know each other, but…” Here he pauses and puts his chalice of wine down. You know what is going to come next, but not exactly how it will be phrased. Temullgei did at least warn you that this might happen. “I would like you to consent to be my wife. I won’t lie to you, having you as my wife would make me powerful, but I would take care of you and ensure you’re provided for. I command the largest tribe and would help you unite our people, as the Khaadain predict you will do.”

As Benrah finishes speaking he takes your nearest hand and kisses the back of it, tickling it with the hair from his moustache.

“Will you be my wife?”

Angel of the Sands: Part 11

After a moment of her staring at you, you nod and then shake your head. She frowns, and raises her eyebrow at your motions.

“I told him I’d marry him yesterday but now I’m not so sure. I think I’ve changed my mind.”

This only deepened the woman’s frown. A second later she encourages you to sit and moves off to talk with the other elders. They mutter together in their own language for a long time, occasionally glancing back at you and you realise that agreeing to marry Temullgei may have been a bigger decision than you first realised.

Eventually the conversation comes to an end and they turn back to face you.

“This is something that normally wouldn’t be allowed. I assume Temullgei announced the betrothal to his tribe?” the eldest says. You nod. “Then we can only ask if he will relinquish his claim to your hand in marriage. Wait here while we do so.”

One of the women leaves and the rest gather around you, bringing bowls of coconut scented water and fresh clothes with them. Over the next hour they clean every inch of you and smother your face with paste, and rinse your hair in several different bowls of scented waters.

When they finish, they help you dress in an elegant gold gown and use sashes and cords to hug the material to every slight curve of your body. They then place a circlet of intertwined strands of mixed metals, designed to look like vines, with leaves of the same golds, and silvers placed in ornamental positions. On the end of each leaf a tiny jewel glinted in the sunlight.

Along with this they placed several similarly styled bracelets and anklets on and finally a large necklace with the biggest blood red diamond that hung against the top of your chest.

Just as the women were making the last few adjustments to your clothing the missing elder comes back. Right behind her is Temullgei. His face is impassive but you can see from the anger in his eyes that he’s not happy.

As your stomach flips over several times the elders all scurry from the room, leaving you along with the Khaad.

“The Khaadain has informed me that you no longer wish to be my wife. Normally, such a request is not granted by the tribal leaders, but you are unused to our ways. If you have truly changed your mind, then I won’t force you to become my wife, but I won’t hold back from expressing my anger and hurt at the lack of respect you’ve shown me.” he says, his tone sharp and clipped but still respectful towards you.

“I’m sorry, but I’ve changed my mind.”

“Very well. I will inform my tribe.” Without another glance at you Temullgei leaves. The Khaadain elders come back inside and its evident from the looks on their faces that they have heard what was said. From that point onwards they speak to you in short sentences and no more smiles cross their faces. A couple don’t even look at you. Although none of them express it, they evidently disapprove of your actions as well.

With your attire finished the eldest of them tells you what little you need to remember for the ceremony. Mostly it involves smiling, waving and accepting gifts. There is a short toast and food will be laid out at your feet most of the afternoon and evening. Then, when it is dark and you are tired, you can stand and leave. No one else will leave until you do.

With these simple instructions you’re sure you can handle what’s expected of you and hopefully regain some of the good favour you appear to have lost.

After taking a deep breath you allow yourself to be ushered back out of the small area you’ve been in for the last couple of hours. With a smile you don’t quite feel plastered to your mouth you walk the short distance to a small seat placed at the top end of the circular area. Already many people are gathered within the circle and around the outside of it, expanding out as far as you can see.

The crescendo of voices almost deafened you as you waved like you’d been told and slowly made your way to your seat. When you reached it a nearby elder came forward. Within her hands was a chalice full of a pale pink liquid. You take it, as you’ve been instructed to and hold the cup aloft. The roar and noise around you grows even louder.

When the crowd has quieted a little you bring it to your lips and take a gulp. Immediately the bitter fruity drink fills your mouth, almost making you gag. Whatever this is, it isn’t something you like, and you have to drink the whole thing.

Focusing on the level of the liquid on the opposite side of the chalice you take gulp after gulp and focus on anything but the taste. Somehow you manage to drink the entire amount but you can feel is sloshing around in your stomach.

With the cup empty the same member of the Khaadain rushes forward and takes it from you. You then take your place in the seat. Glad for the support when your vision blurs slightly. Thoughts slow in your head and you realise the drink must have been an alcohol or narcotic of some kind, perhaps even both.

As the parade of people giving you gifts begins to form you have to force your mind to focus and utter your thanks for each and every one. Many of the people bring you little objects, pretty stones, and ornaments but one or two men come swaggering up to you with slaves bearing armfuls of gifts. They each have many bare-chested men with them and when one steps further forward than the others do he opens his mouth to speak.

“Angel, I am Khaad Benrah. It is an honour to see such a beautiful Angel amongst us once more. If you ever need anything me and my dempair is at your disposal.”

You nod and thank him for the gifts but say nothing else. His words are an eerie echo of Temullgei’s.

Over the next few hours more and more possessions pile up around you, including slaves. Finally, towards the end of the evening you notice Temullgei get up from his seat off to one side. Until now you’ve barely had time to even glance his way but he has your attention now.

Just like the other Khaad, his dempair accompany him towards you but none of them smile and a quiet settles over the watching crowd. News of your recent decision must have travelled amongst the tribes represented.

Despite the stony face that he presents you with he is followed by more slaves bearing gifts. You run your eyes over them, not knowing where else to look. Immediately you can tell that they’re the jewellery and clothes he paraded past you on the first night he met you.

As he retreats back to his seat you can’t help but wonder if the crowds also noticed that his gift was far smaller in number than the showering of possessions from the previous two Khaad. He was understandably still angry. Only a few more people came to you bearing gifts after him and you wondered if the night was finally drawing towards the feasting part.

As the last man bows at you and presents you with what must be your hundredth dress of the day a commotion starts almost directly ahead of you. An entire mass of people push their way through the crowds, trying to get to you. Eventually the spectators part and another Khaad with his dempair, and most of his tribe come up to the edge of the circle.

They bow low at the Khaadain who sat off to one side, and then in your direction while you sit and wait. This Khaad’s tribe looks to be much smaller than the others around him and the members barely take up any space within the circle, but he stands tall and comes towards you. Behind him trail several slave men carrying a large canvas like object between them.

“Khaaheed, for you. A Gerd,” he says as the bring the massive object towards you. He struggles with the words almost as much as they struggle with carrying the heavy object. You think he called you Angel in their language but you can’t be sure, but of all the gifts, he’s given you one you’re the most sure you need. The tent-like canvas these people live in. You give him your most sincere thanks and the warmest smile you’ve been able to muster since the ceremony began.

With every gift laid in a pile and your slaves ushered off to set up your tent for you, the smell of hot food begins to waft your way. You realise that you’re starving and have been for some time. The groggy feeling in your head has barely subsided though and you know there’s more of the drink to come.

Thankfully the food arrives first and you tuck in, trying to ignore the people watching you take your first bites. Once you’ve eaten a little and the trays have been passed you find the tribes turn their attention to food. Feeling less exposed you relax a little, but you remain alone on your pedestal, surveying the people but not among them.

After a couple of hours your slaves return and begin carrying all your gifts to your new home. You wonder if everything is going to fit but you were warned not to reject any gifts and that means your slaves will need to find somewhere to put them. It would have been a lot worse had no one thought to give you a tent of your own. At least it meant you didn’t have to stay with the Khaadain. You would feel safer and more relaxed in your own private dwelling.

Not long after all your gifts have been moved you notice a lull in the noise around you and more people glance your way. The sun has already gone for the day and the stars are starting to shine above the fires and torches that were lit in preparation. You suspect some of the people are now waiting on you to leave.

This story is entirely free to the reader and will continue to be throughout, but as you might have gathered from the website around this I make my living from writing fiction. This post is over 1000 words long and took me a few hours to write and polish. Although it’s definitely not a must, if you enjoyed this and want to say thank you in a monetary fashion please consider becoming a patron of mine at Patreon (a lot like kickstarter but more of a pledge per episode/installment sort of thing). You can also say thank you by sharing this with friends who might enjoy it or dropping me a message here or through my email address.