The biggest mistake writers of all calibres make is one that you can easily avoid. If you omit this mistake, you will improve your writing and the gamebook will be all the better for it. I Guarantee it!
The mistake, made by amateurs, intermediary and masters alike, is this:
An idea comes. The writer rushes to their word processing document and starts to write. A first draft - that's ok though, right? Because Books Aren't Written, They Are Rewritten (more on this truism in the next article). They get their idea down and start with chapter one, or in the gamebook format they write the opening intro. Throw some flowchart ideas together and start joining up paragraphs.
Sounds like the fairly conventional way to start turning an idea into a finished piece, right?
Next time you get a great idea for a gamebook. Stop. If you go straight from idea to book creation, you will come unstuck. Chances are high that your idea may be great, but you will falter attempting to turn that idea into a coherent gamebook, you may, as a result, abandon your attempt halfway through and then your great idea will never make it to the book shelves of your readers!
So.... don't go to your word processor, go to your notebook, or if you prefer a simple word processor like Notepad. Personally I use a scruffy notebook and a pen. My hand writing is terrible, but I'm the only one who ever needs to see this, so it's fine.
Start by writing out the Concept. Keep the Concept to one line. Keep it simple. If it doesn't fit on one line, it's too complicated. Water it down and try again. Above all, do not be tempted to go turn this idea into a story, or a book or a blockbuster movie! Some examples of great (yet surprisingly simple) gamebook ideas written out as Concepts:
Caverns of the Snow Witch
A white witch wants to bring on a new ice age and must be stopped.
City of Thieves
An adventurer heads into a sinister city in search of someone who can help them defeat a dark lord.
The baron of a city holds a gauntlet in which competitors attempt to survive a death trap dungeon and emerge at the end to be crowned the victor.
All three of the above Concepts went on to become the three books we know and love.
Crucially, as you can see from these very simple lines, the meat of the story is missing. There's nothing about Zanbar Bone, or the girl he wants to kidnap from Silverton. There's nothing here about the gems the adventurer will need in order to get to the end of the dungeon.
But when you have your concept, you can start to stretch it, like elastic. Ideas beget ideas. So the next thing to do is start mapping out your story (and even though this is a gamebook, there is of course a story embedded therein).
In my next article in this series I'll explain more about mapping out your story and using narrative conventions to give your gamebook depth.
In the meantime your homework is to write as many Concepts as you can think of. Go to town! Fill up a page, or maybe an entire notebook of Concepts. Don't turn any of them into stories or gamebooks until you've read my next article, 'Why Most Ideas Fail At the Outset'.