For a Wiki, Click Here: Choose Your Own Adventure Stories as a Pedagogical Match for Wiki Interfaces
Contributors: Matthew J. Newcomb and Amy Nimon
School Affiliation: SUNY New Paltz, Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Email: ewcombm at newpaltz.edu
You may recall reading a Choose Your Own Adventure (CYOA) book as a youth, or perhaps you remember reading one to someone else. These books were prominent in the 1970s and 1980s and are action-adventure stories for grade-school-aged children. CYOAs are unique because the reader makes choices about the plotline’s trajectory, rather than simply following the characters’ decisions. At the end of every page or two, the story presents a choice; should the main character go through door number one or door number two? You, the reader, make the choice and then turn to a specific page in the book based on that choice. You would see the results of choosing door number one (for example) and would have another choice to make soon after. This process leads to jumping around the book until you hit one of the many available concluding pages. The stories are written in the second person to emphasize that you, the reader, are directing the story. The second person “you” also pushes readers to identify with the main character because “you” initiate critical changes in plot with each turn of the page. To give a brief example, in R.A. Montgomery’s CYOA story, Space and Beyond (1980), after some narrative to set the outer space context and to let you know that your parents are from two different planets, you have the option to “choose Phonon as your birth planet,” or to decide that, “on the other hand, Zermacroyd attracts you” as a home world (p. 1). You turn to page two for Phonon or page three if you choose Zermacroyd and go on from there. You would continue reading and making similar choices until reaching a page that had “The End” on it. Each choice affects the plot, leading to a multitude of different endings and different narratives, as well as a distinctly reader-centered, non-linear story. Sometimes the stories would loop back to earlier decisions, and readers could revisit the same premise again and again while still ending up with different storylines.
While these stories could be examined in their own right for the kinds of choices they allow, for the way they address “you” the reader, or for how they have evolved in children’s and adult literature, this narrative will consider them as a pedagogical option. You will explore the possibilities that CYOA-style writing has as an assignment or activity for the first-year composition classroom. The CYOA emphasizes issues of addressing the audience and audience’s choices, and it allows students to become more conscious of their rhetorical and narrative decisions, precisely because they have to think like readers who will directing the narrative within the writer’s scheme. Unlike traditional CYOA stories, in this assignment, choices given to readers do not have to be entirely plot-driven; students can branch into different voices, viewpoints, or styles in their documents to give multiple options to readers. This assignment attempts to bridge the divide between narrative and argument by focusing on some rhetorical elements of the narrative, though many colleges both do and do not include narrative writing as part of first-year composition courses. Finally, this type of writing matches well with wiki technology—where Web pages are easily updated and new pages are easily created. By incorporating both the CYOA-style and the wiki technology, students have to maintain organizational schemas for their projects, while exploring the ways digital media (wikis in this case) impact writing processes and products.
You will find that this article is organized in CYOA-style format. However, there is a table of contents at the end of this first section that you can use to see the overall set of sections and to jump to particular topics. The format is addressed further in Section 2, which may be the best place to go next. Each page will end with a set of options for you to use similar to the following: Go on to Section 2 to continue the introduction and read a summary of main points, turn to Section 8 to jump straight to a student story, or turn to Section 3 for teacherly considerations about this assignment.
The table of contents will allow you to jump directly to a portion of the text that seems most relevant to you. Three topical reading tracks are provided for your use as well in the following areas:
Student perspective track
Section 2: Format and Summary
In keeping with the theme of this article, you will note that it progresses as a CYOA-style story, not in a traditional front-to-back manner (even including a more positive ending in one section and more negative conclusion in another). You often tell students that they need to enact the kind of writing they write about (at least when writing itself is the topic), so this is an attempt to practice that idea. At the end of each section you will have a choice of two or more directions to go (such as to more information on working with the technology or to student examples). Each section is numbered, and you need only to turn to that numbered section. The format is both to show the choice-based structure and to allow you to read the parts that interest you. Of course, multiple readings are possible and encouraged, and you may choose to ignore the choices and read straight through or flip around in your own manner.
Regardless of your reading choices, the wiki-based, CYOA-style story provides a match between a writing project and digital media that makes author and audience choice the central issue. The author creates a choice and the audience chooses (or chooses to ignore the options), promoting a highly rhetorical approach to digital media that encourages self-conscious writing and careful audience positioning. Online interfaces are fundamentally about limited choices in a supposedly unlimited online environment. People move from one page to another via links, and each Web page is in part an argument about where to link to next. The CYOA-style story on the wiki foregrounds these issues in such a way that students are compelled to consider how they set up choices, what choices they create, what values are related to those choices, and how they create particular kinds of audiences.
Writing this piece also led you to a number of interesting choices. What sections should be linked to each other? Should the writing be in the second person for you? Does this use of “you” make the reader more of a collaborative author (along with collaboration issues the wiki brings to the fore). The “you” is particularly touchy, since it can be accusatory and attributes all sorts of thoughts and actions to readers that they have neither thought nor done. At times, readers may identify quickly in those situations, but when they do not, the “you” can seem quite out of place.
Ultimately this article was designed as a series of chunks that were written separately and then put together. Of course that led to you cutting some chunks adding others, and combining or altering still more. That writing process hints at the struggle many students had—to keep a coherent narrative (or several actually) while working in different units. Some did separate chunks like in this article, others did a main storyline and then added variations. The wiki does force writers to work in specific sections, and it can be quite useful for allowing air time for topics that might get cut or buried in notes in a traditional article. To focus next on the role of the teacher go to Section 3. To hear about the students’ reactions go to Section 4.
Section 3: Teacher’s Role
As the teacher, you are fundamentally concerned with the students’ writing. Perhaps this is a basic point, but there it is. The CYOA-style assignment itself (see Section 11 for further details) is about at least two main things: using the wiki in an educationally valuable manner and making rhetorical decisions. One of the issues here is that the technology and rhetorical decisions often get separated too much. You sometimes create a how-to lesson about the technology, and then later you give a lesson about persuasion or some other aspect of writing. However, the two lessons are not always connected as well as you might like. Writing about digital literacies, Stuart Selber “insists that students who are rhetorically literate will recognize the persuasive dimensions of human-computer interfaces and the deliberative and reflective aspects of interface design, all of which is not a purely technical endeavor but a form of social action” (2004: 140). You, too, are interested here in the rhetorical aspects of human-wiki interfaces, and hope for student analysis of these interfaces. The wiki and the CYOA-style story can work together because the choice points in the story are made possible (in a sense) by the technology with its ease in creating new pages. At the same time, that ease means that careful attention must be paid to each decision point or the pages will run out of control.
You also decided to connect reading to the assignment by spending some class time with a choose your own adventure story to familiarized students with the genre. You read some pages in class and let the students choose different directions to take. It was playful, but also a form of critical rhetorical reading. You used that time to discuss the position the reader is put in for those stories and to discuss the ways the decision points are set up and transitions are written. The class was able to critique the clunkiness of some transitions and even practiced writing their own revisions. The critique itself was done collaboratively.
Wikis are certainly known for their uses as collaborative spaces too. Multiple users can continually revise a wiki page to use the best ideas (ideally) from a group of people. While we attempted to have stories actually link together so a few mutual pages would be created, the main collaborative work for this project came when students would make revision suggestions for each other by going directly to parts of the story draft on the wiki and typing in comments there. The possibility to directly change someone else’s story provided teaching moments about authorship and about the different rhetorical options for changing, commenting on, or adding to someone else’s story. While the rhetorical and technological aspects need to continually have their connections to each other explored, it is time to shift to a new section. You now can move on to more detail about the technological side of this work in Section 5, or to more about rhetorical analysis of the choice points in Section 6.
Section 4: Student Responses
The students adapted well to this assignment. They had some concerns, since it was a very new way of writing a story, but it allowed options for them in how to organize the story, what kinds of choices to give readers, and what variety of directions to take the plot. The assignment was a fictional story, but the idea could work for more directly persuasive papers as well. Organization was a huge concern for the students. Some color-coded their various plotlines as they drafted their stories, others used numbering systems, and many used idea maps with lines between boxes for each section. Your requirements included that they have at least twelve pages, six choice points (or splits in the narrative), and three different endings, but they could backtrack through the story and make longer or shorter plotlines as they wished.
Many stories were action-adventure stories, while others stuck with contemporary realism and things related more directly to them. A couple even tried fantastical narratives. The splits in the story tended to lead to extensive conflict in the stories. Conflict served as a basis for moving in different directions. One interesting thing students did was to use images to illustrate the stories at times. The images usually depicted some part of the setting or action. They also used short videos on occasion—again for illustrative purposes, creating more multimodal compositions. For pedagogical issues, turn to Section 11, for a student example, turn to Section 7.
Section 5: Institutional Technology Issues
This assignment was not your first use of wikis. You had used them for students to post weekly writing for classes, for peer interaction work, and to create an online student journal before. However, you were at a new institution where there was no internal wiki—you only had access to public ones. You initially met with two of the Information Technology staff, and one of them, Joanna, subsequently spend a great deal of time working with you. The two of you agreed that a free educator wiki from PBwiki.com (which has some privacy control and is now called PBworks) would be the best way to go. It had specific space that was available for free for educators (and an apparent interest in working with educators), you could password protect the site, and it had a decent amount of storage space. It also had a solid capacity for easily including images, videos, and other plug-ins—which necessitated that storage space when a class full of students would be using it. You had earlier signed up for an account of your own and made a few wiki pages, trying out all sorts of experiments with text, images, and links. Joanna did separate research on her own and fortuitously decided that the same public wiki (PBworks) was ideal for your purposes.
The concern with privacy was one of the main issues. Some student writing may be ideally put in a truly publicly accessible realm. However, for this project, with new college writers and no desire for outside people to write on their pages, you signed up for a password-protected site. (That password and privacy issue is why you are not being given the specific wiki to go look at for yourself.) While you sometimes think that putting some student work on completely public Web pages of many sorts is a good thing that emphasizes real audiences, the safety of the classroom for more experimental work is valuable too.
Usability was the second large concern. You were fortunate in that Rick from IT services agreed to do an extensive presentation for your classes, giving them hands-on training, at least briefly, with the wiki. He did one full class in a computer-lab room on how to use wikis, and you frequently interrupted with ideas about which aspects might be especially useful for the wiki story assignment. Students were given time to set up their own wiki pages off of your class site and to play with those a bit. You did learn that naming conventions are important to prevent pages from being lost and to prevent two people from updating the same page unknowingly (creating a page with the same name as another page simply links to the earlier page). You also set up some parameters distinguishing between class pages that anyone could edit, and personal assignment pages, where more permission to edit would be required.
After those presentations the connection with IT was left dormant. However, the project may still be used in the future to promote new technology purchases for the institution—even for getting a home-grown, institutional wiki to host. To check out a student example, turn to Section 7; for new technological directions this project could take, turn to Section 9.
Section 6: Rhetorical Choices in the Assignment
What choices do composition teachers give their students? Perhaps a choice of topic for a paper—or sometimes a choice of format or even genre. When students write argumentative pieces they often choose what side of an argument to take or what case to make. They also have rhetorical choices. They can choose what examples to use, what tone to take, or how to arrange an argument. Part of your job is to make these choices into thoughtful, conscious ones.
In the CYOA-style assignment, you asked the students to focus on the kinds of choices they made as they created choices for readers. Some students created choices about what you—as the main character—would do next, some made options about what other characters. Other choice variables were about how things actually turned out as the result of a decision, such as whether getting into a cab was a good idea or a bad one. One student even allowed the reader to see the story from a new character’s point of view—giving the choice to switch perspectives. The perspective change served as an innovative rhetorical move, where other values or voices could be included.
Perhaps there are not more or more important rhetorical choices to be made in the CYOA-style assignment. However, it does allow for a narrative (a common assignment in some versions of first-year writing) to be more overtly rhetorical. The need to make particular writing choices based on how the audience will react is more readily apparent when the writer has to give the audience more control over the plot of the story. The fact that the audience is more at the fore in a narrative provides more opportunity for students to analyze the situation and consider how to guide the reader. The use of the second person as well brings up issues of how the author should write based on audience and situation. Using language that directly speaks to a “you” emphasizes the reader—and brings out questions of types of readers—whether real readers, imaginary readers, ideal readers, or other sorts. Ultimately, you may consider the CYOA-style assignment to be a good option for keeping a narrative assignment while still making the class about persuasive or audience-based writing. Turn to Section 10 for a theoretical look at things, or turn to Section 11 for pedagogical discussion.
Section 7: A Student Example
You received this story as one version of the CYOA-style story assignment. All the connections and choices are within the story until the end of it. At that point you will have options for heading back into the more explanatory and analytical aspects of this article. The text of the example begins here and continues with options after each section.
Was It a Dream?
The basement is still and quiet, the only tranquil room in the entire house. You hear footsteps thumping above your head, some slow, others quicker, followed by the shouts and laughs of your family. The noises are muffled by the wooden ceiling and seem to be far away. Outside the sun is lowering itself behind some evergreens, and you gaze at it through the dirty cellar window. You come down here to often to get away from everything and to have some time to reflect. You find yourself thinking about how perfect things were when you were younger as you run your finger along the window glass. Just then you hear a scuffling sound coming from a box at your feet.
Find out what is in the box (Section 16)
Get distracted ( Section 17)
Section 8: A Student Perspective on the Assignment
Creating a story on the wiki was something completely new to you. You had never even heard of that kind of Web site, let alone posted a paper there. This, combined with the task of writing a COA-style story, also something you had never done before, made for an ultimately new writing experience.
As would be expected, using new media for writing created new obstacles. Along with using the wiki came learning how to create Web pages and links to those pages. The process was not overly challenging, but was especially time consuming as, in writing a CYOA-style story, you had to create many links branching out to various web pages. Once you had these tools figured out—which did not take long, as the wiki seemed readily learnable to students with word processing and Internet search skills—you were set to focus more intensely on the story-writing aspect of the assignment.
You had already read a few CYOA stories when you were younger, but had never actually created your own. Some new issues presented themselves throughout the process. Having to compose not just one storyline, but several, involved a great deal of creativity and brainstorming. Each decision point you created in the plot meant two new story endings to contrive. As with any story, the ending is possibly the most important part of all, and having to create several endings was exhausting (and simultaneously exciting.) To see the instructor’s viewpoint, turn to Section 3; for some conclusions, turn to Section 15; or to read a sample story, turn to Section 7.
Section 9: Multimodal Aspects
One of the important technological aspects of the wiki is the ease of using plug-ins. Students could easily insert a short video, for example, on one of their pages. One student even created a choice point that revolved around watching a short video or not. Audio plug-ins and other features are also available. Readers could watch or listen to a short speech that tries to persuade them to make one decision or another—creating another moment of persuasive work. The most significant advantage of being able to use audio and video plug-ins is to create an opportunity to practice multi-modal composing. As Cynthia Selfe and Gail Hawisher assert, “if U.S. students cannot write to the screen—if they cannot design, author, analyze, and interpret material on the Web and in other digital environments—they will have difficulty functioning effectively as literate human beings in a growing number of social spheres” (2004: 2). Students must learn to compose in a variety of media and contexts. Multi-modal composition is a key direction that rhetoric, writing, and composition courses are taking, and this project allowed students to work on the relationship between the words in their stories and the images, videos, audio clips, or whatever else that they included. The multi-modal option also allowed for other voices to be included in the narratives. Sound bytes from differing characters (in a story) or opposing viewpoints (in a debate) can be used next to each other, with the student responsible for providing the context. If you think this project absolutely needs some changes like more multi-modality (or just has serious problems), turn to Section 14; if you want to consider doing this project, turn to Section 15; and if you need more time to consider the rhetorical aspects of all of this, turn to Section 6.
Section 10: Binaries and Perspective
One theoretical concern that came up repeatedly was the notion of false binaries. For organizational simplicity students usually kept two choices, but more are always possible. The forced choice that comes with the binary is a concern—since many options are not what someone would choose if given free reign. The choices also indicate various assumptions about the values of the text and about what are really live options in a particular social situation. The two-option choices, in this sense, do provide a fertile soil for addressing issues of how social structures can give a sense of freedom while actually severely limiting possible options or interactions.
The use of the second person is also a bit unusual. It can be accusatory, forcing someone verbally into positions that may be uncomfortable, although it also allows experimentation, since the “you” of the story is not actually “you” in a one-to-one identity relationship. The second person in the stories has a violence to it, with some students killing off “you” in some of their endings; at the same time, the reader is encouraged to be a thespian—choosing a role to play for one reading of the story and asking questions about what their current character idea would do. In a more argumentative essay the “you” allows a more complete sense of adopting other positions than most work with counter-arguments. The reader can try out a side and see if it fits, then go back and try a different side on, moving toward seeing a position from the inside, by inhabiting it in a particularly well-written piece. In the spirit of splitting the binary a bit you have three choices. You can turn to Section 5 for a return to the technological issues, turn to Section 13 for a discussion of the multiple paths of reading, or turn to Section 14 for a critique of this assignment.
Section 11: Assigning and Assessing the Project in Class
When you actually worked on this assignment as a class, students were a bit nervous. You gave them quite a bit of warning about this new kind of technology and project, and you worked with the technology for shorter pieces of writing for a few weeks before the CYOA-style story. As a group, you mapped out possible narrative lines as a class, worked on writing the choice points or transitions to new pages. You spent a great deal of time discussing the different kinds of choices they could create, noting that changes in voice, perspective, attitude, or many other factors could be just as useful as a plot-based choice. Another significant issue was whether to use first, second, or third person perspective in the story. You had students write sample pages from each perspective and we discussed the merits and problems with each—although most stuck with the second-person perspective of older CYOA stories.
The assignment itself required at least three different endings to the story and at least six different points where the reader had a choice of two or more directions to go. Different choices could end up leading back to the same narrative path, but at least twelve different episodes or individual wiki pages were required. Students also had to provide a short cover letter explaining some of their narrative and rhetorical choices and had to identify a particular audience that the story would be targeted toward.
Process issues were also brought to the forefront with this assignment. Students asked if they should compose on the wiki or in a word processing program. They thought seriously about whether to write one strand of the story then another, to move about in a more haphazard way, or even to start with some endings. They debated whether organizing the whole thing first or just letting the organization flow from the story was more effective as well. Peer review was more beneficial outside of class (since we did not have a computer classroom). Students could actually make changes on pages that they reviewed, and the initial author could go back to an earlier version if those change ideas were not acceptable. However, this possibility of making changes led to discussions of authorship and what would and would not count as too much work on someone else’s paper—since these were all still individually graded. The very practical process issues were an unexpected benefit for me as a teacher, since students shared their various methods and some of the reasons for them.
The assessment for the stories required you as the instructor to jump around in the stories, trying to move through each wiki page in a particular student’s work. Reading the whole thing in that sense was somewhat awkward until a pattern of always choosing the first option and then going back at each dead end to take other routes developed. Students can be prepped to know that different issues will be the focus of the teacher. In your case, organization, showing events, exemplification, and how the story related to students’ chosen audiences were the main focus.
Assessing the stories focused mostly on the final product. Wikis record earlier versions of each page. The wiki record of previous versions of pages was a bit too much to take into account in most cases. However, in instances where a page was confusing (or even particularly long), earlier versions could be explored to help clarify what was going on or to allow the student’s earlier ideas to serve as a basis for the teacher’s comments. Future versions of the assignment could involve typing commentary directly into the various wiki pages, while old versions of those pages would allow students to bring their stories back to the forefront if they so desired.
Section 12: A Student’s Writing Process
You (as the student) found that perspective is a very important aspect of choose-your-own-adventure stories. The idea is to bring the reader along on the adventure and allow him or her to decide what should happen next in the plot. You therefore decided to write the story in second person, establishing a sense of the reader experiencing the adventure firsthand. Had you not used second person, the story would have been entirely different. When the reader feels as though he or she is in the shoes of the main character, a very different effect is produced. This was something you experimented with throughout your writing process.
The main events in your storyline were also influenced by the fact that it was a CYOA-style story. You wanted to choose a plot line where the setting could create very vivid imagery. This resulted in your decision to make the story, as a whole, very surreal and extraordinary, a story in which the reader could be invisible, fly, find themselves trapped in a painting, and experience time standing still. Because the reader was meant to feel as though they were living the adventure, you chose to add as much description of surroundings as possible, which aided in placing the reader in that setting. For the sample story referred to above, turn to Section 7. For more of a student analysis of the assignment, turn to Section 8.
Section 13: Paths of Reading
Perhaps the fundamental characteristic of the CYOA is that multiple paths of reading are possible. This fact emphasizes the inextricable connections between reading and writing. The reader is directly an author in choosing where the story goes, but the reader is also directly a character, meaning that some control is missing. You can re-read, or you can “cheat,” and see what happens one way, and if you don’t like it, go back and read another way. The contract the format sets up about choices is not always followed, providing an even different experience.
Yet, all the reading paths can lead to significant confusion. You may lose a line of thought or plot. In more academic-style pieces this issue stands out even more. How can you make a western-style academic argument in this webbed format where the reader can choose the order of reading? For non-fiction arguments, setting up the content as a series of related sub-topics or as equally valued aspects of a main issue works better. The wiki format can work quite well for organizing a series of examples and a series of different perspectives on an issue. To try out some reading paths with a story, turn to Section 7 for a student example. To end this whole process (and start again if you want), turn to Section 15.
Section 14: Possible Problems (a Troubled Conclusion)
You try using something that involves rhetorical choices and links on a wiki and the students just do not get it. First, they have trouble with the technology, and they all have different computers that require slightly different ways of updating wiki pages or of building links. Some of them also get so caught up in the action or romance of their stories that they lose track of the organization of the document, while others simply do not grasp the notion of a choice being anything other than a turn in the plot. You also have trouble reviewing and grading the students’ work, since there are all sorts of paths you can follow through their writing—and you want to be careful about what commentary you put on the wiki pages given their more public status (at least to the other class members). The experience is a bit frustrating, as students have not linked their work or collaborated at all, but have simply written stories that happen to be on a particular (and sometimes confusing) kind of Web site.
In the unlikely event that you do the assignment again, you would probably move away from using fictional narratives and make the assignment more of an issue exploration, where different viewpoints on an issue must be given. This might allow new sides to be seen clearly and could utilize the wiki’s capacity for external links to key Web sites and sources. You might also give the students three or four specific models of how to organize their wiki papers, not requiring the exact use of a model, but perhaps slowing some runaway tendencies in the organization. You could also try to schedule time for the class in a computer lab, allowing guided work on the wiki together, although that time can be hard to find on many campuses. Even with these changes for the future, the initial experiment was worth a try and at least gave you food for thought. The End. (Return to Section 1 to try a new path through the article if you wish—or skip to Section 26 for a brief works cited list.)
Section 15: It Works (A Happy Conclusion)
The wiki assignment was a solid success. The students showed creativity in developing perspectives to write from, in intentionally creating particular types of audiences through directly addressing them, and in finding a variety of types of choices to give readers. The assignment itself, along with the technology, led to some valuable classroom discussion about how digital environments and specific technologies influence writing and require new literacy skills. The lack of a spelling checker on the wiki led to a few confusing points, and it would be worthwhile to try the technology with other types of assignments—perhaps a more argumentative and research-based paper. Conversely, you think the assignment could even be done in paper format. That switch would lose some of the teaching moments about digital writing and working in different media. You also would not have the chance to do peer editing on the wiki and have the same level of multimodal elements, but the main rhetorical issues about choices and organization would remain. However, the whole process was inspiring to you as a teacher, and you sincerely hope others will find alternative versions to improve on your wiki experiment. The End. (Return to Section 1 to try a new path through the article if you wish—or skip to Section 26 for a brief works cited list.)
Section 16: Find out what is in the box (Nimon story continued)
You inch closer to the box. The scuffling sound continues. The box rattles more and more as you draw nearer, until finally it is convulsing and shaking wildly like those old-fashioned telephones in cartoons. You cannot take it any longer. You kneel down cautiously, undo the latch on the small wooden box, and open the lid. Everything suddenly goes quiet, as though the door to the only noisy room in the entire world has been shut. The box is still. The furnace is silent. Everything instantaneously turns white, and the box disappears. Suddenly you are surrounded by complete blankness and nothing in the entire world makes a sound. You close your eyes to shield them from the blinding white light.
Keep your eyes closed ( Section 18)
Open your eyes ( Section 19)
Section 17: Get distracted
"Are you hungry? Come eat your dinner!" your mother calls from upstairs. You forget about the box. It is late October and your family is having a small celebration for your dad's birthday. Everyone is sitting around the round, polished table, talking about memories from childhood that make everyone laugh. Your uncles begin telling ghost stories. They always like to do that this time of year. One uncle had just told a story about a girl raised by wolves. Your little cousin quivers beside you, her large brown eyes wide with fright.
"Here's one you haven't heard," your dad says. "My best friend's mom told me this story when we were about 12 years old. We would sit outside the old barn out back when night was falling, and she had all kinds of stories to tell us. This one goes something like this... My friend's mom, she claimed she knew a girl once when she was young who found a box in her attic one day. The girl didn't think much of it. What did she care about a box? Besides, she claimed there was something inside it, and she would rather not find out what it is. So that girl, she left the box there. She told her parents all about it and they said 'Just leave it, it's probably some of your grandma's old junk.' So the young girl left it alone. And that night, she died mysteriously. Now, no one would have thought much of it, except about ten years later, that same incident occurred elsewhere, somewhere in Northern Maine, I guess. A boy in his teenage years found a suspicious box in his garage, didn't open it, and his dad found him later, sprawled on his back in the kitchen."
Everyone sits quiet for a minute. "That's absurd. I don't believe a word," your mother says. You laugh and shove your hands in your pockets nervously. Your fingertips brush against something in your pocket. You pull it out. A folded piece of paper.
'”You Should Have Opened The Box...'” it reads. Your jaw drops. Suddenly your throat gets tight and you cannot breathe. Everything goes dark.
To start the story again, turn back to Section 16. To read Nimon’s thoughts on the assignment turn to Section 8.
Section 18: Keep your eyes closed
You close your eyes tighter. The white brightness was painful and overwhelming. Suddenly something collides with you from the front, sending you off of your feet and flying through the air. You land on your back with a thud that knocks the wind out of you. You open your eyes and look around frantically. You catch a glimpse of some sort of horse-like animal before it vanishes into the whiteness. "Come back!" you shout, standing up quickly. Your voice does not echo. All is silent. You run in the direction the animal had fled. "Come back!" you shout a second time. Just then you hear the most beautiful voice singing somewhere far away. The voice is light and breezy.
Follow the animal ( Section 20)
Follow the voice ( Section 21)
Section 19: Open your eyes
You open your eyes and try to adjust to the light. You begin wandering through the nothingness. This cannot possibly be real, can it? Where are you? Where is your basement and why have the sounds of your family disappeared? You continue wandering aimlessly. Suddenly you run into something about shin-high. You bend down and feel forward and forward more, realizing it is a staircase. You start up the stairs, stumbling every few steps. There is no railing. You can hardly see the stairs you are walking on. You are climbing into nothingness, with nothing surrounding you. At last, you reach a door. You place your hand on the doorknob, turn it, and step through the door. You find yourself floating amidst blueness and clouds. Down below is a city. You stare, awestruck. You soon realize it is your city you are flying above. There is the school. There is the park. The supermarket. The people are tiny like toy soldiers. You could pick them up and hold them in the palm of your hand.
Keep flying Section 24)
Try to land Section 25)
Section 20: Follow the animal
You begin to follow the mysterious creature. You have never seen anything like it before, and you need to see what it is. As you run, more and more details begin to appear around you. You are no longer surrounded by whiteness. Here and there a tree begins to form as though someone is sketching it right beside you, and you are watching. First a branch forms, then leaves begin to appear. Soon you are running through a thick forest. The ground and trees are covered in a thin veil of white snow. The world is in a wedding gown. The animal creature is nowhere to be seen. Suddenly you hear a scuffling sound. You turn to find a gravestone forming at your feet, as though it is being painted before your very eyes. First the left side, then the right. A pause. Next the base of a cross begins to form, followed by its top. This construction continues until finally, an entire graveyard has formed around you. You looked around in awe. You sit down in the snow and try to process what had just happened. You pull your knees to your chest, rest your head on your knees, and close your eyes. After a while you feel yourself drifting off. Your eyes become dry and your arms feel heavy like stone.
Sleep ( Section 22)
Keep yourself awake ( Section 23)
Section 21: Follow the voice
The voice is magnetic. You find yourself being lured. Minutes pass. Every so often the voice dies out and you stop, waiting for it to begin again. Once is starts, you immediately begin once more in the direction of the voice. Soon the whiteness around you begins to diminish like fog retreating to the sea. You find yourself in the midst of a deep, dark wood, surrounded by lush green mosses and chirping birds. The voice proceeds, and suddenly in the distance you spot a small wooden building through the trees. As you draw nearer it is clear the decaying hut is the source of the singing. You approach the shack, slowly and cautiously. Sticks crack and crunch beneath your sneakers. You place two hands on the sill of one of the windows and peer in through the dirty glass. You wipe away some of the dust and peer in once more, squinting your eyes, nose pressed to the window pane. “It looks so... familiar,” you think to yourself. You spot the singing girl, sitting in a chair facing away from the window, her long black hair hanging in long, loose curls. You continue to stare, and finally it hits you like a freight train. “No...is that...my basement?” Each word is thought silently within your mind, aside from "basement" uttered in an uncertain whisper.
"Yes," replies a voice behind you. You turn around, startled, and see behind you the same girl who had just been inside the shack. You look through the window to make sure it is really her. Sure enough, the girl inside is no longer there.
"Where am I?" you ask, wondering how she arrived there so quickly.
"I cannot tell you," she says, her voice and face lifeless. You stare at her quizically. "There are other worlds besides your own."
"What kind of worlds?"
"Do you believe in time travel?" Her voice is hollow and monotone. You stare into the stranger's lucent blue eyes. Your knees feel weak. You turn to the window and stare at your basement.
"Why is my basement in this shack?" you ask the girl. She does not respond. You turn to face her, but she is gone. The woods have vanished, replaced by the familiar cement walls of your basement. The furnace hums, and you hear the commotion of your family upstairs.
Section 22: Sleep
Soon you are in a deep sleep. You awake to the sound of a loud splash beside you. Your eyes flicker open slowly and you gaze around, having forgotten where you are. About ten feet away is a large blue puddle. You stand up, still shaking off sleep, and stumble over to the puddle. You stare at it curiously. Suddenly you hear another splash. Behind you there is now a bright yellow puddle. 'Where is this coming from?' you think to yourself. You look up at the sky and see a massive raindrop plummeting to the ground like a grenade. It lands at your feet- a green puddle. You kneel down beside the puddle and place one finger into it. You smear the green between your thumb and forefinger. "Paint..." you realize. Suddenly there is a deafening bang behind you. You turn to see an enormous paint brush, bigger than you, laying on the ground. What is going on? "Damn, it's ruined!" a voice shouts from somewhere above you, far away. Where did that come from? You look around frantically. No one is there. Suddenly there is another bang, and behind you is a second paintbrush, even larger than the last. You look up at the sky again. A giant pencil is plunging through the air, coming straight for you. You dodge the pencil just as a shower of paint drops comes cascading from the sky like rain. You run around manically, trying to get out of the way. Suddenly a giant eraser head is aiming straight at you. It pokes at your leg, then your left arm. “Oh my God...” you think. Next your other arm is gone. Your body is slowly being erased, until finally you are gone, and it is as though you never existed at all...
Section 23: Keep yourself awake
You stand up immediately. You cannot let yourself fall asleep here. You traipse through the graveyard that has formed around you. Suddenly in the distance you spot a small group of people, darkly clad. As you near the group of people, you can hear them sniffling and crying, some louder than others, some completely solemn and silent. There is a low wind that blows gently and warmly. You work your way through the crying people, glancing at all their faces. No one seems to notice you. You realize your best friend is in the crowd, along with several people from your school. 'How did they get to this strange place?' you wonder. And then you see your parents, toward the front of the mass of people, tissues to their eyes. You look to the open casket and see your own lifeless body lying inside.
Section 24: Keep flying
You glide through the air weightlessly. You are drifting on the wind like a flower petal. Soon you begin trying to move you arms and gain some sense of control over your body. You find that you are able to navigate yourself however you like. After some time, you head for the ground and land lightly on the soil. You begin wandering through your town, past the supermarket. It is unusually silent. Cars are suspiciously parked in the street, motionless, some in mid-turn, others halfway through a traffic light that awkwardly turns from red to green to yellow. Soon you notice there are drivers in the cars, seemingly frozen. A man stands motionless with his hand at the door of the post office. Nothing and no one is moving. You approach a woman walking her golden retriever and touch her arm. No reaction. You eventually arrive at your house. Your mother is standing frozen in the doorway, reaching into her coat pocket. You brush past her and enter the house. You walk slowly through the house, examining everything, wondering how all of this is possible. Your bedroom door is ajar. Orange light pours out of the opening and shines on the floorboards. Through the crevice your see a pair of legs on your bed. You open the door wider. Laying there in your bed... is yourself. Your jaw drops. You walk over and sit beside your motionless body. You nudge your arm and suddenly your eyes open. As the body's eyes open, you feel your own eyes opening, and suddenly you are back inside the body, lying on the bed and looking around the room. Outside your mom is walking up the sidewalk.
Section 25: Try to land
You continue eyeing the city. Once you spot your house, you decide to land. Everything seems to be just how you left it. The neighbor kids are playing with squirt guns on their front lawn, all chasing one another in a circle that never ends. You enter your house and hear your mom in the dining room. She is flipping through the pages of a magazine at the table. You walk in, somewhat dazed, trying to decide if you were really flying ten minutes before. "There you are," says your mom. "Where have you been?" You smile.
Section 26: Works Cited
Hawisher, Gail E. and Cynthia L. Selfe. (2004). Introduction. In Cynthia L. Selfe and Gail E. Hawisher (Eds.). Literate Lives in the information age. Mawhwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Montgomery, R.A. (1980). Space and beyond. Choose your own adventure 4. New York: Bantam Books.
Selber, Stuart. (2004). Multiliteracies for a digital age. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.