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If you don't remember, Choose Your Own Adventure books had bits of a story, then options for the reader to give them more of a feeling of control in their adventure: "If you want to walk through the dark tunnel, turn to page 16. If you want to take the bridge, turn to page 19."

I want to write a similar book, only a technical manual. My initial thoughts are to write it as a PDF with internal links to various pages, like

"If you already know how to engage the widget, go to page 60. If you want to learn more about the history of widgets, visit page 1010.

So, two questions. 1) Can I write it in this style and have the links to pages change dynamically (say I add an entire chapter and it bumps up page 60 to 80 and page 1010 to 1030. 2) Is there recommended software for doing this? Sorry for the noob question, this will be my first venture into writing a book.

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My guess would be to use Adobe InDesign, although that's expensive for someone who's not in graphic design. I might suggest asking this question on Graphic Design SE, since they've have a better feel for what programs will allow the dynamic link updating. I think InDesign can be tweaked to update dynamically, but Scott and Alan Gilbertson on GDSE will know for sure. –  Lauren Ipsum Jul 25 '13 at 19:32
    
Is your ultimate goal print? If so, PDF is probably the way to go, and you can achieve what you want with lots of software. The LaTeX typesetting engine has very good support for cross-references. If you are thinking of an electronic manual, you can look into something similar to the now abandoned Google Breadcrumb project. –  Ananda Mahto Jul 26 '13 at 9:27

5 Answers 5

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Surely good old HTML would be great for this? Links would work perfectly for the transitions (especially in-document # links).

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Yes, after a lot of experimentation, I went with HTML. I create a stylesheet that will add page breaks on certain elements (like my H1 titles), various image classes for annotations, and make liberal use of links and anchors to walk the user through the book. –  jbnunn Oct 29 '13 at 14:50

Any decent word processor software will allow you to insert cross-references. I've used this quite frequently in Microsoft Word when writing technical documentation for software. It produces a link that the user can simply Ctrl-click to navigate. You can link to a variety of different items within the document.

If you export the document as a PDF the cross-references will be retained as clickable links.

See Inserting Cross-References.

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Just what I was looking for, thank you. –  jbnunn Jul 25 '13 at 22:20

There is software and an open-source markup standard for that called TWINE. I have not used it myself, but there seems to be a robust community around it.

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Wow, really interesting. I'm not sure that it will be best for producing a printable book, but I definitely want to give this a shot for an online, interactive version. thanks @redjives –  jbnunn Aug 4 '13 at 20:15

I see that you've decided to go with the PDF option. Not sure that's what I would do because PDF is a standard that carries a bit more baggage than other formats.

I'm not sure about .mobi but I know .epub is just basically common or garden HTML dressed up with a few more tags. As such you can fill it with hyperlinks. I guess .mobi must be similar as you'll find many e-books on kindle include live hyperlinks. I'm not sure how well they work on older non-touch screen e-paper readers but should be fine on touch screens.

Also I wrote a piece of software specifically for drafting this kind of book. It's for windows and it runs off a single .exe I never published it anywhere but if you drop me a line I'll see if I can sort you out with a copy if you're interested.

P.S. This kind of book is, I have found, one of the most difficult kinds of things to write ever, just so's you know.

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I'm currently (stuck) in process of developing such book - I'd be very interested in your software! –  SF. Jul 26 '13 at 12:58
    
I don't know enough about the market to know which end-result format is the best. Since it's a technical manual, I assumed PDF is a good option, but I like the idea of a .mobi for Kindles too. I'm also interested in your software--what output format(s) does it do? –  jbnunn Jul 26 '13 at 17:17

I actually wrote a piece of software to let you write books like this. It can get really difficult if you're just using a word processor and relying on cross-references (especially if you later want to shuffle up your paragraphs).

The hardest part about writing choose your own adventure books (or gamebooks) I found is visualising how all of the sections fit together. So this software was built from the ground-up to be graph based.

It's called The GameBook Authoring Tool. The free version will let you write 100 sections which hopefully will be enough for your technical manual. You can export to txt, rtf and html formats.

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