Jim C. Hines: How To Turn Your D&D Campaign Into A (Really Bad) Novel

Jim Hines beaned me in the forehead with a d20 and I was out for hours. While I was out, he snuck onto my computer and wrote this post. That pesky Jim! Which is also the name of the sitcom starring Jim, by the way. *plays That Pesky Jim theme music*

Chuck Wendig is known for giving good, blunt writing advice. Of course, he’s also known for writing Baboon Fart Story and for his role in the soon-to-be-released independent film Cock-Waffle. [ed — hey, I didn’t write Baboon Fart Story, I merely conceived of it. — cdw] But I can talk about Chuck’s poor life choices in another blog post. Let’s stick with writing advice for now.

Because it’s one thing to give good advice, but what about all those young writers who desperately need a few scoops of awful advice?

I’m here for you, my friends. Like a flatulent Papio cynocephalus, I have come to fill the air with so much anti-wisdom you’ll be tasting it for weeks. Best of all? It’s all based on personal experience, tested and true and terrible!

Because way back in 1995, I set out to write the continuing adventures of my favorite D&D character. And because I knew all writers made mistakes from time to time, I figured I’d get them all out of the way in that first book so that everything else I wrote would be pure gold.

I’m sure you’re dying to know how I did it. Read on, if you dare!

Step 1.

Start with your favorite character. You know, the one you’ve been playing and building up for years. The one you typed up that gorgeous character sheet for, with artwork you cribbed from the Wizards of the Coast site, and that really sweet Lord of the Rings font, all printed out on parchment-style paper. (You get bonus points if you’ve ever cosplayed the character, or commissioned artwork of them.)

In the case of Rise of the Spider Goddess, it was Nakor the Purple! (The exclamation point was an important part of his name.) Nakor the Purple! was a thief/druid based loosely on a Raymond Feist character. My version was an elf with a bottomless pouch of figs, a magic rapier, and a purple cloak. He was as awesome as a bionic velociraptor in Boba Fett armor.

None of your characters will ever be as awesome as Nakor, but that’s okay. The point is, nothing is more thrilling than listening or reading as someone goes on for 50,000 words about their D&D character.

Step 2.

You know all those notes your Dungeon Master prepares before starting the adventure? Vomit those things directly into your word processor. Infodump the hell out of that sucker!

Spider Goddess was a sequel to a campaign that took our college gaming group more than a year to complete, which meant I had a lot of vomiting to do. I’m talking flashbacks and dreams and flashbacks-within-dreams, not to mention random characters wandering up with no purpose whatsoever except to randomly babble bits of backstory.

Some people would say you should dole out the information as it becomes relevant. Screw those people! You (or your DM) worked hard on all of that research and backstory. You suffered for it!

Your job is to make the readers suffer too.

Step 3.

Introduce the rest of the cast. Don’t waste time with nonsense like character development, backstory, motivation, and so on. They’d all pale next to your awesome protagonist anyway. Just toss in some cardboard bad guys in black robes, a spunky thief, an angsty vampire, an evil goddess, and so on. Maybe a wise monk who knows martial arts, just to round things out.

No matter what happens, do not develop them into well-rounded, interesting individuals. This is your story, not theirs, dammit!

You might want to reference the other player characters from the game, but the other players might not like that. Mention them once or twice, sure. But make sure to do it in a way that’s completely irrelevant to the plot.

Step 4.

Let the quest begin! It’s time for your hero to set out to get to The Place so they can kill Bad Guys and find The Thing!

For Nakor the Purple!, it was an ancient scroll written by a dude with too many apostrophes in his name, destined to help Nakor stop an evil goddess, but first, he must overcome a series of random encounters and obstacles.

Don’t worry about explaining why the characters have to jump through each hoop. For example, Nakor has to flee his home when he’s discovered by bad guys. He retreats to a Mysterious Temple™, after which he returns home again. Risking capture and death. To get rope. I shit you not.

Does it make sense? Who cares? As the dungeon master author, you have the power to railroad these characters through whatever ridiculous or illogical nonsense you want!

Step 5.

Add magic. There are some who would say that the rules used in most gaming systems for magic make no freaking sense when applied to a novel, but don’t let those people spoil your fun. So what if there’s basically no cost to your character’s power, no logical reason they can level up and suddenly start transforming trees into warriors or magically mulch poison ivy into toilet paper.

Your characters’ magic should do exactly what the plot requires. Logic, limitations, and consistency are for lowers. Hell, ignore the gaming system rules too. This is your story, not theirs!

Step 6.

Forget revisions. Forget proofreading. There’s no feeling in the world like finishing a novel, so get to that point as quickly as you can. Remember to give it an awesome title, the longer the better! Something like:

The Prosekiller Chronicles:

Rise of the Spider Goddess

(An Annotated Novel)

For me, there was a seventh step. Almost twenty years later, after publishing ten novels and fifty short stories, I went back and reread Nakor’s story. I cringed a lot. I longed to reach back in time and punch 1995-Jim in the face for his clichés and mistakes and just plain awful writing he spewed out.

And then I decided to publish it. Alcohol may have been involved. If not, it probably should have been. I prepared all 50,000 words, along with an additional 5000 words of commentary, in which 2014-Jim gives 1995-Jim the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment.

Because I think it’s important to acknowledge the bad advice and the awful mistakes. We’ve all written crap. Some of us have written more than others, but none of us are born knowing how to write groundbreaking, bestselling novels.

I hope Spider Goddess will be good for some laughs, and that it might also help new writers to recognize and avoid some of the many mistakes I made. My thanks to Chuck for letting me blather on, and to all you writers out there, remember the most important step of all:

Have fun!

Jim C. Hines: Website | Blog | Twitter

Rise of the Spider Goddess: Amazon | Kobo | Smashwords | Google Play

41 responses to “Jim C. Hines: How To Turn Your D&D Campaign Into A (Really Bad) Novel”

  1. More and more people are wanting to buy this. I have a feeling that by the end of the day and into the evening a whole lot of people will be wanting to buy this which makes me think that the title of the blog is wrong. This is starting to appear as a brilliant way to market your crap.

    “How to Market Your Old Crap”

  2. Drat it, Jim. I looked the thing over. It proves two things, a) that you can’t write a bad book when you have the gift. merely a technically inadequate one, and b) that you can sell books. Now must I buy your other books, too?

    • “Now must I buy your other books, too?”

      Yes. Didn’t you see the fine print on page one that said, “By reading this book, you agree to buy EVERYTHING JIM HINES HAS EVER WRITTEN OR WILL EVER WRITE AGAIN”?

      I should have started putting that verbiage in my books years ago…

  3. The snark that Jim brings to Rise, snarking at his younger self’s callowness in writing a novel, has to be read to be believed. I am not sure I’d have the nerve he did.

  4. I did something similar but it was a humorous retelling of my Elder Scrolls V:Skyrim playthrough. I roleplayed as a skooma-addicted narcissist and did the entire main quest. By the end, he was a better person (not much of a stretch) due to his adventures and the occassional head-thumping of his acquired follower, Lydia. Check it out here: https://www.fanfiction.net/s/9514861/1/Ralos-Ravenclaw-Dragonborn . Now I want to do one for one of my many D&D characters, too. Curse you!

  5. I feel funny. My own book, being published the beginning of next year, is a collection of articles and stories I’ve written over the years, starting with the worst ones and ending with (what I believe to be) the best ones. Spinning In Circles And Learning From Myself is all about sucking (as a writer, mom, citizen) but telling the story anyway so that I can learn from my mistakes.

    In other words, I’m publishing my crap too–with a similar reason.

    I though it was a dumb idea, and then I thought it was a neat idea, and then I thought it was a brilliant idea! (Spinning In Circles is sorta my thing, you see!)

    So, obviously, I LOVE this post and the idea of this book. I believe it’s brilliant!!!

    But it’s weird to think that I’m not, well, weird. I mean, if you’re doing it and other people are doing it… then does that make me sorta normal? Yuck! I don’t know how I feel about that! tee hee!

    Well… either way, I absolutely love this idea! And I no longer need to spin in circles to know that!

  6. Jim….you forgot the last and most crucial step: Pay way too much for a booth at GenCon, in which you sit forlornly until somebody takes pity on you and buys a copy of your brilliant masterwork.

  7. Oh my God, I actually DID this when I was in my early twenties. I wrote a 27-page novella about a session my group played and after I wrote ‘the end’ I sat back, my eyes widened in horror, and I whispered softly, “what have I done.”

  8. Really enjoyed this post, so funny ^_^
    I’ve been in a table-top rpg group for two years (GURPS-based) and a cooperative writing PBeM (play by email) rpg for over three years. So I completely understand both the temptation to write a novel based on an rpg, and why it just wouldn’t work. So many inside jokes. So much character manipulation that doesn’t really make sense.
    This Jim Hines novel sounds hilarious…

  9. “Play ‘That Pesky Jim’ theme music” phrase keeps echoing in my head to tune of “Play That Funky Music, White Boy.” Damn you.

  10. I kept two of the first costume pieces I ever made. A “renaissance chemise” made from old bedsheets, RIT-dyed in my bathtub and trimmed with polyester lace from Woolworths. It turned me pink every time I wore it in the rain. It goes with the polyester velvet folkdance vest I found at a thrift store- the one that I replaced the buttons with eyelets (only one remains, hanging by a few frayed threads), lined with iron-interfacing and hot-glued in some plastic boning. I thought I was hot shit when I wore it. In 1988.

    I bring them when I get asked to do “Getting Started in Costuming” panels at cons. Because it so clearly points out the adage “Everyone has to start someplace”. People tell me “I could never do what you can do!” Well, 25 years ago I couldn’t either.

    Looking forward to cringingly reliving my HS D&D Days with this one!

  11. The Prosekiller Chronicles. XD That’s hilarious.

    I’m glad you didn’t forget the infodumping. You can not forget the infodumping. This is the classic example of a great novelling technique that all writers must learn. We have slaved day and night to make these maps and locations and world rules and histories. They are the most important parts of our stories. Power to the infodump. ;D

  12. This sounds so terrible, it has to be good. And you know, the thing I really like is that the cover doesn’t look half bad. You put effort into putting this scary thing out.

  13. I want this like I want to breathe.

    And then when I’m done reading it, I want to have a con with Jim and Chuck as the GoHs, and all you people commenting here as attendees and panelists. You are all My People. And we will have round-robin dramatic readings of all our epic ficcings of past campaigns, in costume, and with fanarts.

    It. Will. Be. GLORIOUS.

  14. Yes, but did you capitalize all the names of the classes/races/really important descriptors? That would really make an excellent book. I guess I will have to buy it and find out for myself!

  15. The first thing that went through my head when I read “That Pesky Jim” music was “Play that pesky Jim music, white boy” , replacing Wild Cherries “Play that funky music, white boy”.
    It’s been one of those days.
    *eye twitch*

  16. It can’t be much worse than SHADOWKEEP, Alan Dean Foster’s “novelization” of a text adventure game back in 1984. He literally used the printout of a game session by the game’s developers as the outline for the book. It was as bad it sounds. I’ve read and finished a lot of crap over the years, but that was a book I couldn’t finish; even trying to skim it was painful.

  17. Honestly, this is a brilliant way to market old and embarrassing writing. Any doubts I had about the book evaporated when I saw the beauty that is that front cover.

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