Tuesday, June 23, 2020


I recently created a video talk for the Singapore Writers Festival, and it went live earlier this week. Maybe you watched that and decided to come by. In which case, a very warm welcome to my website! But if you haven't seen the video, here it is:

VIDEO: Where Ideas Come From with Don Bosco
Calling all budding writers! Get inspired with unusual ways to write original stories with author Don Bosco! Join him as he shares the writing process using examples from his published books. Download fun writing activities after watching the video and let your creative juices flow to write your own stories.

Remember to download the free handout that comes with this. It contains story writing tips and a few easy exercises for creating your own stories. This is the same technique that I use when writing my books. Let me know if it works for you too. Get the handout here.

The handout also includes a free story, Murtabak's Mystery Club, about a young detective named Murtabak Lee. It was illustrated by my younger son. Hope it makes you laugh!

Recently I've been busy making gamebooks. A gamebook is a story where you get to choose what happens along the way, so it's like you're playing a game. 

This is my The Secret of the Chatter Blocks gamebook, part of the Toy Mystery series, for readers 7 to 9 years old. More info here.

And this is my Welcome to the Scramble gamebook, part of the Last Kid Running series, for readers 10 to 12 years old. Book launch event photos here.

I've also started a Gamebook Academy to teach you how to make your own gamebooks! Check out the free lessons here, and have a go. It's a lot of fun!

To find out more about me and my books, start here, and then explore the different sections in the sidebar on the right.

Last year I celebrated 8 years of Super Cool Books by featuring 52 fellow kidlit creators. They were really awesome. Read their interviews here.

All this should keep you busy for a while! Thanks for dropping by, and I look forward to meeting you at one of my events.

Take care, and happy writing!

— Don

Saturday, June 13, 2020

GAMEBOOK ACADEMY _____ Meet RANA TAHIR, she wrote a CYOA gamebook about a woman who went undercover during World War II to spy on the Nazis

NOTE: This is part of a series that explains how to create your own simple gamebooks. More articles here

An introduction, please.
My name is Rana Tahir, I'm a poet, educator, and writer. A little bit about me: I'm originally from Pakistan but grew up in Kuwait. I'm a Kundiman Poetry Fellow and author of two books. My most recent book is a gamebook titled Choose Your Own Adventure Spies: Noor Inayat Khan.

Tell us about your gamebook Choose Your Own Adventure Spies: Noor Inayat Khan.
Choose Your Own Adventure Spies: Noor Inayat Khan puts readers in the shoes of Noor Inayat Khan an SOE (Special Operations Executive) operative during World War II who went undercover to spy on the Nazis. Noor was a real person and readers get a chance to explore all the ways her life could have gone while also learning about World War II and the movement for Indian Independence. 

What were the main challenges you faced in writing this gamebook?
In writing this book the biggest challenge was just knowing when to stop. I think, if I didn't have a deadline, I could have continued writing more and more choices and endings for Noor's story. There was also the sense of responsibility I had with presenting an honest interpretation of Noor as a historical figure, and person, and to represent World War II and the movement for Indian Independence with depth. I think anyone who writes about World War II and doesn't mention or, in my case, at least allude to the Holocaust is doing a disservice; similarly, the story of European imperialism is a complex topic and while I couldn't do everything I wanted to with Noor's India storyline, I did try to at least mention some of the figures of the time and give a sense to the duplicity of the British role during that time as liberators of Europe and tyrants in India. Ultimately, because of the page limit for the book, I had to opt for a more subtle approach than what I initially drafted.

Summarise your gamebook writing process in under 30 words.
I start with an idea and then I brainstorm and outline all the choices. Next, I map them out. Afterward, I go section by section and write out the story.

How did you first get interested in gamebooks?
There are a lot of things that led to my interest in gamebooks. For one, I loved point-and-click adventure games as a kid. While the games (like the Monkey Island series from LucasArts) did not have multiple alternate endings, I did enjoy piecing together clues. Secondly, I've always enjoyed fanfiction and fandoms in general: they are a communal debate and sharing of alternate choices and endings for characters we love. In relation to that, I loved comic books. Comic book characters are always brought back and reinterpreted in a multitude of ways over the decades, in addition to the multiple timelines that exist in and outside of the canon. It was always fun to debate different ideas for how stories could go. I also frequently watch behind-the-scenes footage and documentaries about movies, especially deleted scenes and alternate endings. I think I just always wondered about other possibilities in all the things I read and watched. I had never really thought of writing a gamebook until the opportunity came, as I mentioned earlier, but I always enjoyed them.

How will gamebook authoring skills be useful for kids in the future?
Of course, writing often is important to develop strong work, and I think writing gamebooks is a fun way to practice. I think the biggest benefit of reading and writing gamebooks is the ability to think creatively and see situations from multiple viewpoints. Thinking creatively is a life skill and a great professional skill too. It allows you to think of all the possibilities that others might overlook.

Links for fans: 

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Don Bosco's Gamebook Academy

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

GAMEBOOK ACADEMY _____ How to create an amazing gameworld for your adventure

NOTE: This is part of a series that explains how to create your own simple gamebooks. More articles here

Welcome back to the Gamebook Academy! I hope you’ve been trying out the gamebook writing tips in our earlier lessons. In this post, we’ll look at some ways you can create an amazing imaginary world for your gamebook. These ideas can make your gamebook so memorable, your readers will be dying to read your next work, so that they can visit and enjoy your gameworld all over again. Ready? Here we go.

LESSON 4: How to create an amazing gameworld for your adventure

The best way to start when designing your gameworld is to decide on the main mood of the place.

Will it be dark and creepy? Or sunny and cheerful?

Shadowy and mysterious? Or glittery and enchanting?

This mood will become the main emotional flavour of your gamebook. It will determine all the other elements, as we’ll see below. For each of the following points, make a list of three or more ideas you’d want to include in your gamebook. And check that they all fit your main mood.

Once you’ve decided on your main mood for this gamebook, you can make a list of locations for your readers to explore. These locations should reflect the main mood, with small variations to make things more interesting.

Eg, if you want your gameworld to feel dangerous, you could have castles filled with scary paintings, lakes filled with black bubbling water, deserted villages with a nasty smell, and so on. Your readers will definitely feel a shiver run down their spines as they go about their adventures.   

These are the residents of your gameworld. In a movie, these would be the background characters that live in the gameworld. You’d want to create an interesting crowd for your character to interact with, and they should also reflect the mood of your gameworld. 

Think about the locations you’ve picked for your gameworld. What sort of people would you find in these places? Eg, if you have a bazaar, then you can fill it with merchants, traders from other lands, perhaps thieves trying to sell their stolen goods, and even pickpockets looking for unsuspecting victims. 

The more people you include in your scenes, the more lively and immersive your gamebook will feel to your readers.  

A curio is an object that’s unusual or fascinating. Curios make us curious about their origins and their makers. They often seem like items from another world. Some might even look magical. And sometimes they are worth a lot of money.

One way to get readers excited about your gameworld is to have them encounter such curios during their adventures. Examples: swords, precious stones, lovely old books, lockets, tools, weird toys, small animal bones, and so on. 

So make a list of unique curios for your gameworld, and even sketch them out in a notebook, so you know how to describe them. And remember to choose curios that strongly reflect the mood of your gameworld.

Every adventure will contain dangers that could prevent your character from completing the mission successfully. Your character would need to avoid these elements.

If there’s a castle in your gameworld, you could add giant man-eating rats in the dungeons below. That would make it a really dangerous place indeed. Ugh! Shudders. 

Or if there’s an academy for spies in your gameworld, you could have a fierce Spy Master who goes around and assigns detention to the spy cadets who aren’t paying attention. If this means the absolute end of the adventure for your character, then the Discipline Master would be dangerous indeed. 

Other ideas: trap doors, bullies, fierce vultures, zombies, vampires, haunted buildings, and so on.

Every gameworld needs a bunch of delightful treats to make your readers smile and feel happy. 

If there’s a dungeon, a real delight would be to encounter swarms of lovely flickering flies that give off a pretty glow.

If there’s a toy factory in your gameworld, perhaps the workers there are busy making small edible toys that taste like ice cream, or chocolate balls, or fizzy cola. How absolutely delightful, eh? Thumbs up. 

Other ideas: clowns, unicorns, cute little ponies, birthday parties, cool books, giant dancing robots, magical playgrounds, etc.

So have fun coming up with ideas for these categories: Mood, Locations, People, Curios, Dangers and Delights. And once you have these points figured out, just add some of the information in each section of your gamebook. This will bring the scene to life and make it feel like it’s buzzing with real activity.

You now know how to make a fascinating gameworld for your readers to enjoy exploring. Have fun and create a new gamebook this week, if you can, even if it's short and simple. It'll be good practice. See you soon.

NEXT LESSON: How to shuffle the sections in your gamebook

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Thursday, May 28, 2020

GAMEBOOK ACADEMY _____ Different types of gamebook adventures you can create

NOTE: This is part of a series that explains how to create your own simple gamebooks. More articles here. 

Welcome back! In the first lesson, we learnt how to make a really simple gamebook with just three sections. In the second lesson, we looked at how you can combine different kinds of choices to make your gamebook longer.

This lesson will give you ideas for different genres of gamebooks, so you can create a wider variety of gamebooks and impress your friends.

Now switch your brain to Gamebook Writing Mode and let's get going!

LESSON 3: Different types of gamebook adventures you can create 

A science fiction gamebook will feature lots of exciting futuristic inventions, from  robots to weapons to vehicles to even time travel suits and body cloning machines.

If you want to write a science fiction gamebook, think about how your characters will be affected by all this technology. Will they benefit from the inventions, or will they be worse off? And then give them a tough challenge that involves this technology.

You are on a rocket, traveling to a distant planet, where you have to deliver a sealed box to a mysterious person known as Dr Roo. But there's an army of aggressive ZipperBots that want to take the box from you. How will you complete your mission?

In a horror gamebook, your character must run away from something awful. This can be a monster, or a dangerous situation, or a scary location. And if you fail, something disgusting or horrifying will happen to you. Yuck! Shudders!

Your horror gamebook could feature a big ugly monster, or a giant pool of stinky slime, or even a swarm of creepy insects that emerged from a spaceship. Create a scenario where your character is desperate to get away from this.

You go to class one day, and find that all your classmates have been turned into zombies. And they want to make you a zombie too. You try to escape them by running to the school office, but oh no, your teachers have become zombies too. Quick, you must run out of school before they get you.

A fantasy gamebook features characters that rely on their magic skills to get things done. There could also be mythical creatures like dragons, giant sea serpents, unicorns, as well as pixies and fairies and orcs, etc.

Think about how your character is affected by magic. Is she or he a really powerful magician? Or is she or he much less powerful than everyone else? How do the characters in the story use magic? Decide on a magical challenge for your character, and a reward at the end if you succeed. 

You find out that your best friend is an apprentice Shadowmaker, with the power to create giant shadow creatures that can travel to magical realms. Your friend creates a shadow dragon just to amuse you, but the shadow dragon kidnaps your friend and flies away. You need to save your friend. All you have is a small shadow spellbook that your friend dropped. It says on the front, "DO NOT OPEN UNLESS YOU ARE A TRAINED SHADOWMAKER". 

In a mystery gamebook, your character must solve a puzzle or make sense of some clues in order to learn the truth about a situation. As a reader, the mystery must really make us curious and determined to help the character solve it. 

Your main character could be a detective, or a private investigator, or a special agent working for the government, or even an ordinary kid who stumbles upon something weird. You can also add false clues or misleading information to make it more challenging for your readers. And there should be a sense of urgency to solve the mystery quickly.

You have been summoned by Mrs Kee, the richest woman in the world, because someone has kidnapped her cat Regala, and she knows you are a talented detective. She shows you the note that the kidnappers left behind. It says, "LOOK LEFT BEFORE THE GOLDEN BIRD 4541 BLINKS. TONIGHT." Huh? What does this mean? Who kidnapped Regala? How will you get Regala back? Where should you start?

In an adventure gamebook, your character receives an invitation to leave home and do something unusual, which often involves exploring unfamiliar places and meeting strange people. 

This adventure is often in the form of a quest. You are called to travel far away and look for something valuable, and you encounter challenges that test your abilities. Adventure gamebooks can be based on or inspired by historical events, or even real life experiences.

Your school organises a camping trip to Moon Island. Near the camp site, you find a huge hole in the ground with a rope ladder leading down. A woman suddenly appears and says there's an old pirate's hideout down there. Your teacher is keen to climb down and explore.  

That's it for now. Have fun, happy gamebook writing, come back soon for the next lesson. :)

NEXT LESSON: How to create a fascinating storyworld

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