I used to enjoy reading those, but I always cheated, bookmarking with a finger or a folded page corner to get back to the choices so I could find out where the story might have gone next, with different decisions on my part. Sometimes I do the same when I’m trying to work out directions for my own writing. It can be as frustrating as it is helpful, though, because it’s hard to pick the best way for the story to go on. I might think at one line of thought will work, but discover several pages (or chapters) later that the initial excitement has fizzled out.
Here’s an example. Thought of the idea below while watching Pride and Prejudice with Kiera Knightly (love her!), but choosing the next event or consequence or proceeding is astoundingly difficult. Sometimes if I’m stuck like this, I might have my character consider the options or possibilities for me, and that will lead me to the next moment. Other times, I have to ask a beta reader for help.
Working title: “The Magic in the Stones”
Helena wandered through the sculpture gallery, keeping a pace or two behind her aunt and uncle. She didn’t mind the company, because their comments were low-voiced and respectful, but she rather felt as though it were more important to form her own impressions of the statuary first. After all, it had been described so often by others alternately as being magical and haunting, it was only fair that Helena be given the opportunity to decide the matter for herself, in order to effective join discussions of the gallery at the next dinner or ball.
The gallery wasn’t as extensive as the Louvre, nor was it particularly crowded by either visitors or art. Just a hall in a country estate, its pale yellow walls brightly lit by skylights and reflective mirrors, candles and a grand fireplace crafted beautifully of white marble and polished to a shine. It echoed the marble sculptures, evocative examples of a fine classical style. Helena drew her wrap about her, shivering in a sudden cold draught. The housekeeper who had taken them on tour of the mansion had said that some of the statuary had originated in Greek and Roman ruins, but Helena had not the expertise to know which examples were brought back from those ancient lands, and which had been cleverly and patiently produced by a talented, modern hand.
Perhaps it did not matter. The artists, whomever they were and in whichever time, had produced such perfect likenesses that Helena felt both admiration and unease. The nude soldier, reclining away from some imagined threat — perhaps the point of a spear, or angled sword — he looked as though he might stir at any moment, lifting one cold hand to deflect Death’s aspect and bring himself to rise. The veiled bride, or priestess, perhaps — Helena found herself stretching out her own pale and slender fingers to pluck away the gathered fabric so as to gain a clearer impression of the woman’s visage, only just catching herself before she had touched the sculpture’s spotless surface.
An echo from elsewhere in the building brought Helena’s attention back to her place. Her uncle and aunt had left the hall, and she was quite at her own devices.
It was at that moment the soldier rose up, and the veil on the bride priestess fluttered past Helena to settle with barely a sigh on the tiled marble floor.
Startled, Helena scurried back against the wall. She opened her mouth to call for help, but despite the quick and rasping breaths in her lungs, the sight of four and twenty sculptures stepping down from their pedestals and turning toward her robbed Helena of her voice.
What do you think happens next?
- Helena discovers that she is the lost reincarnation of a master artist, able to direct stone into form simply by wishing it.
- The owner of the gallery appears just as the statues are menacing Helena, and with a few wel-chosen word, shoos the statuary back to their places as much as a pet owner would command his or her dogs.
- One of the statues manages to touch Helena’s arm just as she is able to escape through the last opening available to her, and over the hours — or days — that follow, she slowly begins to transform into a marble statue herself.
My next move might be to have these alternatives occur to Helena, but that could slow down the action. I might also draw up a series of potential events in a mind map and follow the most interesting or exciting trail. Let it unfold, as they say.
Or abandon it altogether. But I’m intrigued by this one . . . Might be worth continuing!