Today a well-meaning person wrote the words, “All books should be interactive, like ‘choose your own adventure’ stories. They’d be a lot more interesting and different every time you read them. Movies should be like that too.”
That’s an intriguing thought. Songs could also be that way. Just stop after each chorus so you can decide what the next verse will be about. It would be whimsical to add verses about rhinos and depilatories to “Stairway to Heaven.” Bus passengers could vote on which way to turn at each intersection. We could apply the theory to lots of different things in life, although marriage is already a “choose your own adventure.”
Yeah, that’s sarcasm. It can be hard to identify, so I need to label it sometimes.
Here’s why “choose your own adventure” is a bad idea for books, unless they’re literally a Choose Your Own Adventure Book. A main character’s job is to get into trouble. That’s not totally accurate. A main character’s job is to suffer, over and over. Whenever she or he solves a problem, it lands her or him in another problem that’s just as bad or worse. If that’s not true, the hero’s ultimate victory won’t be as satisfying. It’s a dynamic that’s well-known to people who run role-playing games.
But we ourselves don’t choose to suffer, unless some psychological trauma is driving us to. When it’s time to decide what’s next in the story, we’ll usually choose something that makes us look good. We won’t choose the adventure that says “villain shoves scorpions under my eyelids.” Indiana Jones wouldn’t sprint through a tunnel inches ahead of a giant boulder if he had a choice. He’d take the gold statue and go out the back way to avoid the poison darts, the bad French guy, and a skewered Alfred Molina. Then he’d fly home in a snake-free plane.
Let’s not choose our own adventures. Most of us will choose small ones.