Have you heard the line, “Your D&D game won’t make a great novel?” If you’ve heard me speak on panels before, or if you’ve read several submission guidelines from agents or publishers, you might have. I’d like to tackle why.
First, let’s get all the bad mojo out there on the table by saying something completely untrue. “Oh, that evil publisher doesn’t like gamers…” Several well-known authors I’ve met are either gamers themselves or their kids are. And by gamers, I mean everything from tabletop to video and card games. Also? Publishers aren’t evil. You may get frustrated by their decisions, but publishing a book — even if it’s potentially your book — is integral to their overall business. To imply that they’re evil means that a business is a biological entity with a soul. Yes, some businesses have been accused of being soul-less, but that’s actually a correct statement. A better description of a business would be to think of it as a large, gigantic clock. You only see the face that tells the time, but there are lots of moving parts. Each of those “parts” may have a soul, but together they act as a publisher who wants to produce books that other people will want to purchase and read – they certainly aren’t there to make a writer’s life miserable.
So now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get back to the topic at hand. Why won’t your D&D game make a great novel?
Here’s a rhetorical question: have you heard this story before? It’s about an elf, a ranger, a dwarf and a mage…they wake up at this inn…they don’t have any memories…they face this really evil overlord guy who–
Yes. Yes, I’m sure you have. So has everyone else on the planet.
The first lesson here, is that those characters and that plot have been beaten to death so badly, they’ve become their own cliche.
The second lesson I’d like to offer, is that writing a story not the same as “writing up a game” as a story. When you “write up a game,” you are telling the story as it happened during play, because you believe your game is so exciting other people will want to read about it. However, these stories often turn into a dictation of events, which causes the story to sound forced and the characters to become inflexible. When you write a story, you have more freedom because you don’t have to stick to a specific series of events, partly because the writer hasn’t already experienced what had happened.
Third, I’d also like to point out that many new writers don’t realize that when you write a story about your D&D game, you are engaging in a form of writing called “fan fiction.” In other words, you don’t “own” the story that you’ve created and legally, you aren’t able to sell what you’ve written. (Be sure to read my post about the difference between shared world, tie-in and fan fiction if you’re confused).
Yes, there are people who write for DRAGONLANCE and other tie-in novels for established settings. They do have some challenges writing novels, because they are writing in a world that has already been created. This type of writing can be more difficult than writing original fiction, because there are often strict guidelines that the writers and editors have to follow. (If you’ve ever worked on tie-in or media fiction, it’s a lot like putting a puzzle together.) However, this form of writing isn’t the same as “writing up a game,” because the story isn’t about a “real life” game that’s being played, it’s about a story set in the world of D&D.
If you want to share the story about your favorite game, I recommend reviewing Wizards of the Coast’s Fan Site Policy. If you want to write media, shared world or tie-in fiction, that’s an entirely different path and I encourage you to read Wizard of the Coast’s book submission guidelines.
Regardless, if you’re serious about your love of gaming and honing your craft, I’d encourage you to take a more professional approach. Please, do yourself a favor and conduct a little bit of research before you start typing away. Writing a novel is not as easy as it looks, and you don’t want to get off on the wrong foot.