Choose-Your-Own-Romance


Exploring Female Agency in the Romance Genre Through a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure Story


This is a research creation project I worked on during my Master's in order to investigate how female agency was portrayed in romance stories from pulp magazines. What happens if female characters are able to choose their own path through different plot elements? I looked at several digitized versions of pulp magazines published in the 20th century and analyzed plot tropes. Every track of this story represents one of the plot tropes common to the genre, allowing me to demonstrate the rigid possibilities and predictable outcomes available to women in Romance pulps.

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Little Miss Bookworm

She put down the book and he picked up her love

Section 1

The breeze lifted the leaves, swirling them around in the crisp Autumn air as what seemed like every young couple strolled through Central Park. It was Sunday afternoon in October, but the sun was still warm enough for Marcy May Bradley to spend the day outside.

Marcy was sitting alone on a park bench, reading her favourite book. She enjoyed the sounds of laughter around her as the couples discussed their hopeful futures. Marcy was alone on that wooden bench, but she wasn’t lonely. She had all the company in the world with the characters in her book.

Two months ago, Marcy agreed to marry Peter Crenshaw. She had fallen in love with Peter because he was kind and thoughtful. It was easy to imagine a happy life with him. Marcy wanted nothing more than to marry Peter as soon as she agreed to his proposal. Peter, however, insisted they wait. He didn’t tell Marcy when he would be ready to marry her. Instead, he started spending less and less time with Marcy. When they were first falling in love, Peter took her to dinner almost every night of the week. Now, Peter only took Marcy out on Saturdays.

On their date last night, Peter was acting particularly cold and distant. He barely looked into her eyes all evening. She tried to make conversation by telling him about the book she was reading, but he didn’t seem to care at all.

Marcy went to bed worried and confused. Did Peter stop loving her? When she woke up this morning Marcy decided she was going to spend the day doing her favourite things. All she wanted was to get her mind off of her troubles and the best way to do that is to get lost in stories about knights and princesses. So there sat Marcy, on the wooden park bench, imagining being rescued from a tall tower by a handsome stranger. Peter wasn’t giving her attention but her books never let her down.

[Choice 1: Fantasizing doesn’t do you any good. You’re a woman of action! Go to section 2]

[Choice 2: Stop thinking about Peter! Focus on yourself and keep reading that book. Go to section 3]

Section 2:

Marcy’s auburn hair swirled around her face in the wind. She brushed her hair away from her delicate face but when she looked back at the pages in her book all she saw was blurred words. Today’s problems were too big to ignore. Not even the best story could distract her from her worries.

With a sigh, Marcy packed up her stuff and started on her way home. She was going to call Peter right away and demand answers. Why was he treating her this way? On her way out of the park, Marcy was in such a hurry that she accidentally bumped into a man standing in the path. She quickly apologized and slowed her walk to a reasonable pace, but couldn’t help but notice that he was quite handsome.

[Go to section 10]

Section 3:

Marcy’s auburn hair swirled around her face in the wind. She brushed her hair away from her delicate face so that her sparkling green eyes could read the pages on the book. She was so engrossed in her story that she didn’t notice there was a man standing in front of her.

His voice startled Marcy, “well that must be a great book. I’ve been standing here for a few minutes now, waiting for you to look up”.

Marcy let out a small gasp.

“I didn’t mean to scare you,” the stranger said, “I was just wondering if I could sit down”.

[Choice 1 – Maybe this is a sign that you should really head home and deal you’re your problems. Time to leave: Go to section 4]

[Choice 2 – You finally stopped worrying about Peter, how dare some other guy come interrupt you? Tell him to find somewhere else to sit: Go to section 5]

[Choice 3 – You were really enjoying your book. Maybe if he sits down and doesn’t try to talk you can get back into it: Go to section 6]

Section 4

Marcy thought about it for a second. She knew that her neighbors came to Central Park on Sundays. What would they think if they saw her sitting with a strange man? She knew that it would be difficult to explain to Peter who he was.

“Oh, Peter,” Marcy thought. She told the man that he could take her place. She had to leave, anyways. “Are you sure?” the man asked. “Yes, I should be getting home. I have something important I need to do,” she said.

Marcy was too preoccupied with thoughts of her fiancé to enjoy her book. She packed up her stuff and started on her way home. She was going to call Peter right away and demand answers. Why was he treating her this way?

[Go to section 10]

Section 5

Marcy thought about it for a second. She knew that her neighbors came to Central Park on Sundays. What would they think if they saw her sitting with a strange man? She knew that it would be difficult to explain to Peter who he was.

“I don’t mean to be rude, but I’m really enjoying the privacy. I think you’ll be able to find another bench if you keep walking a little further up”.

The strange man smiled a little as he looked her in the eyes. Coyly, he said, “I won’t bite. I just want to sit and read my paper. I won’t even say anything to you if that’s what you want”.

“Oh, all right,” Marcy replied. What could she say? Her mother raised her to be polite. If he kept his promise and didn’t talk to her, what could be the harm?

[Go to section 7]

Section 6

Marcy noticed he was reading the paper. He probably just wanted to sit and enjoy the sounds of the park. The strange man smiled as he looked her in the eyes. Coyly, he said, “I won’t bite. I just want to sit and read my paper. I won’t even say anything to you if that’s what you want”.

“Alright. If you promise you’ll be silent, then of course you can sit,” she said.

[Go to Section 7]

Section 7

Marcy moved slightly to the left to make room for the man. He was wearing black shoes, black pants, a black jacket, and a crisp blue shirt. Marcy thought about how his shirt brought out the blue in his eyes. She liked the way the colour contrasted with the sharpness of his features. Whoever he was, he probably attracts a lot of girls.

He unfolded his paper and began reading. Marcy tried to slow the beating of her heart so that she could get back into her book. She couldn’t shake the feeling that she was doing something wrong by letting this handsome stranger sit so close to her.

[Choice 1 – This guy can’t be good news. Time to head home and deal with your problems: Go to section 8]

[Choice 2 – This guy is a better distraction than your book! Let’s see where this goes: Go to section 9]

Section 8

There was only one other person in the world that could make her heart beat so unsteadily. Marcy started to feel very guilty for feeling any kind of way about a man who wasn’t Peter. Right now, all Marcy felt was nervous but she was worried that if she stayed any longer she might start feeling something more. His dazzling blue eyes were curious, tempting… but Marcy’s heart already belonged to someone else.

Marcy was too preoccupied with conflicted thoughts about her fiancé to enjoy her book. She packed up her stuff and said, “I have to head home now. I hope you enjoy the rest of your day”. In response, the man said, “it was a pleasure sitting with you, even though it was in silence”.

Marcy started on her way home before the man could notice she was blushing. She needed to call Peter right away and demand answers. Why was he being so distant? Marcy didn’t look back at the man her entire way out of the park but if she had she would have seen that he was smiling.

[Go to section 10]

Section 9

There was only one other person in the world that could make her heart beat so unsteadily. Marcy was curious about what it meant that a man who wasn’t Peter made her feel so girlish. Suddenly, the man broke the silence. “I’m sorry, but I have to ask. What is a girl like you doing all by herself on a beautiful Sunday afternoon?”

Marcy felt her cheeks begin to rouge under her porcelain skin. “What do you mean? There are plenty of people around,” Marcy said, gesturing to all of the couples strolling through the park.

He laughed. “Clever girl,” he said and went back to reading his paper.

It was that smile. Something about it made Marcy forget all about her love for Peter. Sweet Peter, the man that used to be so kind to her but now wouldn’t even have the decency to –

“I just wanted to let you know that I’m engaged,” said Marcy. The man sitting next to her looked up. “To a man named Peter Crenshaw whom I love very much,” Marcy continued. There was a moment of silence, and then the man started laughing. “Why are you laughing at me?” Marcy asked.

“You made me promise that I wouldn’t interrupt you but here you are, not even five minutes into reading, interrupting me,” said the man. Marcy gathered up her things and stood up. Her mother raised her to be polite even when the other person has insulted you, so before she stormed off Marcy said, “it was nice to meet you but I must go”. She didn’t look back at him, but if she had she would have seen the stranger was still smiling.

[Go to section 10]

Section 10

When Marcy arrived back at home there was a note waiting for her. Could it be from Peter? Marcy reached for it and could hardly contain her excitement.

It was just from her mother. “Your father and I are out having afternoon tea. Be back before supper!” it read. Marcy sat down on the couch and buried her face in her hands. She felt tears begin to form but she stopped herself from crying. How could she be with a man that made her so upset? Marcy decided it didn’t feel right to be the one to call first. She was going to wait for him to call. No matter how long it took, Marcy was determined to wait for Peter to show her he still cared. If he didn’t? Well, hopefully it wouldn’t come to that.

[Choice 1 – The next day you decide to go back to the park. Maybe you’ll even run into that handsome stranger again: Go to section 11]

[Choice 2 – How can you even think about going back to that park? You don’t want to risk running into that handsome stranger again: Go to section 14]

Section 11

Marcy woke up Monday morning and decided she was going back to the park. She didn’t need to be anywhere until the evening and she barely got any reading done yesterday. When Marcy finally reached her favourite bench she was shocked to see someone already sitting there. It was that man from yesterday!

“Excuse me but this happens to be my favourite bench,” Marcy said as she approached the man. “I was really looking forward to reading here today”.

“I don’t see any names on this bench. There is plenty of space for the two of us if you’d like to join me,” the man said. He looked up at her and his blue eyes made Marcy’s cheeks feel warm. She couldn’t help but think that he looked like the men on the covers of her favourite books. Marcy interrupted her thoughts and said, “what are you even doing here? It’s Monday morning, don’t you have to be at work?”

“As a matter of fact I am a pilot and this happens to be my week off,” he said. Marcy was immediately embarrassed about her outburst.

“Oh, well I hope you enjoy your stay,” she said.

“I would certainly enjoy it a lot more if I could read my paper without being interrupted by rambunctious girls”.

Marcy couldn’t believe it. How could this stranger be so rude to her? Marcy couldn’t tell if she was mad because of his insult, or mad because of just how bad it made her feel. “You don’t have to worry about me anymore. I’ll go find a different bench,” she said and turned to go.

“Come on now, don’t be like that. I was only kidding. Please, sit,” he called after her.

[Choice 1 – Who does that guy think he is? Keep walking away, you’re not going back: Go to section 12]

[Choice 2 – Don’t give up on your bench so easily! Go back and try to enjoy the rest of your day: Go to section 13]

Section 12

There was no way Marcy was going back. She already had one man in her life that made her feel upset. She didn’t have any energy to spend on a stranger. Marcy walked for a while until she found a different bench, far away from where the man was sitting. That was Marcy’s favourite spot. She had been reading there for years, but it was no longer hers. She decided she was going to read on this bench from now on - or, at least until all of this stuff with Peter was sorted out and she didn’t feel so fragile anymore.

[Go to section 14]

Section 13

Marcy was already walking away but something in her told her to go back. Yes, he was rude, but he said he was only kidding. It really was her favourite bench and there’s no good reason to give up on it.

Marcy went back, smiled politely, and sat down. Both Marcy and the man began reading without saying another word to one another. An hour passed and neither one of them broke the silence. Around noon, the man stood and said, “well, it’s time for lunch. It has been nice sitting with you. Enjoy the rest of your day, little Miss Bookworm”.

Marcy was stunned. That nickname sounded cute but coming from him it was definitely an insult. Still, Marcy decided she was going to come back the next day. Something about him left her wondering.

When Marcy arrived the next day she was surprised to see her bench was empty. He wasn’t there waiting for her. This should have been a pleasant sight, but Marcy felt disappointed. She went back again on Wednesday but he still wasn’t there. She returned to that bench every day until Friday but he never came back.

[Go to section 14]

Section 14

The next Saturday, Marcy woke up excited. Today was her date with Peter. She was looking forward to spending time with her fiancé. After feeling so confused all week Marcy needed time with him. She went into the kitchen for breakfast with a big smile on her face. Her mother looked at her and said, “good morning my dear. I just got a call from Peter. He can’t make it tonight. He isn’t feeling well and needs the weekend to relax. He sends his regrets and he wanted me to tell you that he loves you”.

Marcy couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Her fiancé was cancelling on her. And more than that, he didn’t even tell her directly! Marcy picked up the phone and asked the operator to dial for Peter. When he answered Marcy thought his voice sounded energetic. He definitely didn’t sound sick.

“Peter, it’s Marcy. I don’t know what’s going on with you but if you want to end our engagement I won’t stop you. I have been patient with you but now I think it’s time to let go”.

“Is this because I canceled on you, Marcy? It was only one time,” he responded.

“No, it’s not just the one time. It’s these past two months! I don’t want to be engaged to someone who ignores me. You’re a free man now. No need to worry about seeing me this Saturday or any Saturday. Good bye, Peter,” Marcy said and then she hung up the phone.

[Choice 1 – You’re too upset and need to spend the day being sad. It’s important to allow yourself to feel your emotions: Go to section 15]

[Choice 2 – You’re upset but you don’t want to allow Peter to ruin another one of your days. There’s still time to go out and enjoy yourself: Go to section 16]

Section 15

Marcy was too upset to do anything today. She went into her room and climbed back into bed. Thankfully, Marcy hadn’t changed out of her pajamas yet. She stayed in bed for the rest of the day and only reemerged when her mother called her for supper.

[Go to section 17]

Section 16

There was nothing more she could do so Marcy headed straight for her bench. She was beginning to feel like it was her new home. She certainly spent more time there than anywhere else. For the entire walk to the park Marcy’s mind was spinning with confusion and anger. This wasn’t the Peter she remembered. Where was the Peter she fell in love with? In the end, Marcy was glad it was over. She couldn’t help but feel relieved.

When she finally arrived at her bench she was shocked to see that the man was back. She smiled and said, “Hi there. It’s nice to see you,” forgetting that she was meant to be mad at him for calling her “Little Miss Bookworm”. “It’s nice to see you, too,” he said. “Before I let you sit down with me, I must know your name.”

“My name is Marcy May Bradley. Not ‘Little Miss Bookworm,’” she said.

“You didn’t like my nickname for you? I thought it was rather cute. A cute name to match a cute girl,” he said. Did he just call her cute? Marcy felt her cheeks grow warm. “My name is John Underwood”.

“It’s nice to officially meet you, John Underwood. What are you doing back at the park? Shouldn’t you be with your family?” Marcy asked.

“Shouldn’t you be with your fiancé?” he replied.

“Actually, I no longer have a fiancé,” she said. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he replied, “since when?”

“I called off our engagement earlier this morning. But if I’m being honest, it has been over for a couple of months”.

When Marcy looked at John she saw that he was smiling. Marcy had just been through a really painful breakup, but John’s smile made her start laughing. “You must think I’m crazy,” she said when she stopped.

“How can I think you’re crazy when I must be crazy myself?” John said. “I’ve only just met you, Marcy, but I feel like I’ve known you all my life”.

Marcy and John sat on that bench together talking about their lives. The conversation was easy between them. John told Marcy about what it was like to fly in a plane. Marcy had never flown before. In fact, she had always wanted to travel but she had never been out of New York State. They talked until they noticed that the sun was beginning to set. Time had slipped away and Marcy was late for dinner. She told John she enjoyed their time together. Before she left, they made a plan to meet again tomorrow.

[Go to section 17]

Section 17

All through dinner, Marcy’s parents kept trying to convince her to forgive Peter. Marcy was grateful when they heard a knock at the door. When she opened it, Marcy saw Peter standing there panting and shivering. As it turned out, he really was sick!

“Marcy, I need to talk to you,” said Peter right before he sneezed. “Please, just give me five minutes alone”.

“No, Peter. Whatever you have to say you can say it in front of my parents,” she said.

“My love, I don’t understand. I had to cancel on you because I’m sick. I got sick because I’ve been working so hard that-”

“Yes,” Marcy interrupted him, “you’ve been working so hard that you forgot you were supposed to marry me!”

“Marcy I’ve been working so hard precisely because I want to marry you. I want to make sure I have enough money to take care of you. You deserve to be married to someone who can make you happy. I just wanted to be good enough for the job but as it turns out I got it all wrong,” Peter explained.

“That’s the first thing you’ve gotten right. I don’t care about money. I just want someone to love me and be with me”. Marcy thought about all of the men from her books. They all had one thing in common: they wanted to be with the woman they loved.

[Choice 1 – In his own way, Peter is exactly like the men from your favourite books. He clearly loves you so it’s time to forgive him: Go to section 18]

[Choice 2 – Peter is nothing like the men from your favourite books. Stick to your word and don’t forgive him: Go to section 19]

Section 18

Peter was silent for a while, giving Marcy time to think. Her mother and father decided it was best to give the two some space after all.

The more Marcy thought about it, she realized that everything was beginning to make sense. Peter was just working hard so that he could be a good husband to her. He wasn’t postponing the wedding because he didn’t love her; he was postponing the wedding because he loved her! Peter was the love of her life, not some man from the park. Peter was willing to sacrifice everything just to make sure she was comfortable.

“Oh, Peter. What was I thinking? That is the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard,” said Marcy.

“My love, I’m so sorry that I made you think I didn’t love you even for a second. I still want to marry you. At work my boss told me to expect a promotion very soon. We won’t have to wait too much longer”. Marcy looked up at the man who cared so much about her and said, “I love you and want to marry you, too. I’ll wait until you’re ready”.

Peter stepped forward to close the distance between them. He grabbed Marcy’s waist to pull her toward him. Before Marcy realized what was happening, Peter’s lips possessed hers. This kiss was worth those two long months of confusion. Two long months of wondering what Peter was thinking. Marcy didn’t have to wonder anymore. He loved her and she loved him. She no longer had any doubt that she would live happily ever after, just like the heroines from her favourite books.

THE END

Section 19

Marcy’s resolve was clear on her face. Peter realized there was no convincing her otherwise. It was too late. He walked over to her and kissed her on the cheek. “I still love you, Marcy. I know I messed up and I can’t take that back. No matter what happens, just know that I love you with all of my heart and I still want to marry you. I’ll respect your decision and leave,” Peter said. With that, the man Marcy used to call her fiancé left the house and walked away.

The next day, Marcy arrived at her bench – their bench – right on time. John was already there, waiting for her. He smiled as she walked up. Marcy no longer felt embarrassed about staring into his blue eyes. “Sit down and join me, won’t you?” John teased.

“No, I can’t,” she said, surprising John. “There’s something I want to show you first”. He smiled. “Alright, little Miss Bookworm. You have my undivided attention”.

Marcy pulled a large book from her bag and handed it to him. “I’ve never shown this to anyone before but I want you to see it”. She watched John’s face closely as he opened the scrapbook filled with all of her secrets. He flipped through the pages and saw photographs of Africa, China, India and Canada: all of the photographs Marcy had collected over the years. Some pictures were from her father’s collection, some were from magazines, and some were from her precious books.

“These are beautiful, Marcy, but…” John started, “do you mean to tell me that all this time you’ve been dreaming of these places but you’ve never left New York?” Marcy nodded, tears welling in her eyes. “You get to go anywhere in the world in your airplanes. Meeting you feels like fate. Now I get to hear all of your stories and pretend I’m there. Oh, John, your stories are so much more real than any of my books”.

John placed the book down and stood up. He grabbed Marcy’s hands to pull her up, too. John wiped a tear from Marcy’s eyes and said, “you don’t need to just hear my stories. I will take you anywhere you want to go. I love you, little Miss Bookworm”.

[Choice 1 – Oh no! This isn’t the man you love. You are still in love with Peter! Run away and head back home before it’s too late: Go to section 21]

[Choice 2 – You’ve only known him for a week but already you know this is the man of your dreams: Go to section 20]

Section 20

He tilted her chin up and possessed her lips. Their kiss lasted longer than any kiss Marcy shared with Peter. Then, she pulled away and said, “for the first time in a long time I feel like my life might actually be as exciting as one of my books. I love you, too”. Marcy felt John’s lips press into hers again.

“Marry me Marcy and I’ll give you everything you’ve ever wanted”.

So much happened this week but through it all Marcy knew one thing for sure: she was in love with John Underwood. “Yes, John. I want nothing more than to be your wife”.

THE END

Section 21

What was she doing? She didn’t love John. As soon as he told her he loved her, Marcy realized she that Peter was the only man for her. “I’m sorry John, but I’ve made a terrible mistake,” she said right before she ran off.

Marcy ran all the way home and immediately called Peter to ask him to come over. She didn’t care about being the one to phone first. She loved Peter and wanted to spend the rest of her life with him. Peter was at her door less than an hour later.

Marcy wasted no time. “Oh, Peter. I don’t know what I was thinking. What you said to me yesterday was the sweetest thing I’ve ever heard. All my life I’ve wanted someone to love me the way heroes love the princesses in my books. You might have an unexpected way of showing it, but I know that you love me,” she said.

“My love, I’m so glad you called. I love you and I still want to marry you, if you’ll have me.” She smiled and said, “Yes, Peter. I love you and want to marry you, too”.

Peter stepped forward to close the distance between them. He grabbed Marcy’s waist to pull her toward him. Before Marcy realized what was happening, Peter’s lips possessed hers. This kiss was worth those two long months of confusion. Two long months of wondering what Peter was thinking. Marcy didn’t have to wonder anymore. He loved her and she loved him.

She no longer had any doubt that she would live happily ever after, just like the heroines from her favourite books.

THE END

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