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