How Dungeons & Dragons Made Me a More Confident Writer

My boyfriend and I were talking the other night about writing. I can’t quite remember how or why the subject came up, but we had a downright good discussion on the topic. We talked about a few of the different genres and talents that are out there and how each one is able to successfully relate to the majority of people who read their certain kinds of journals and magazines.  And we also talked about how certain journals and magazines seem to crawl into this pretentious little niche by only publishing poets or authors and essayists who use such a language that one must have a degree in decoding big words to even understand it all.

I would catalogue that kind of work into a genre of its own.  And I would include Rolling Stone magazine in that genre. I like music and all, but I certainly don’t think I need to absorb a four-page spread about how ten bands I have never heard of make the writer of the article smarter than me because he has. Share your knowledge with me, but don’t preach it. You lost this reader many, many years ago.

So maybe that was the point of our discussion. The ability to relate to a reader? To reach out to an audience? I don’t quite remember, but Matt and I did get into the nitty-gritty of why writers might possibly develop their skills based on what is most important to them and their own lives. Did I lose you? I hope not, because our conversation got really good.

Matt started to explain to me that some of his favorite parts of a story, short or novel-length, are the characters. He really enjoys experiencing the evolution (or de-evolution, as is sometimes the case) of a character.  He has also admitted to me that he cannot put down a book, even if it sucks, until he knows what happens at the end. I am the exact opposite.  If a book doesn’t catch my attention or fails to hold it after so long, down it goes.  Closed up, hidden away, put back on the shelf. I need details of a situation, of the environment; I need to know what the characters in the story know. I need to feel it, smell it, hear it, see it, love it, hate it. I gotta be there.  Screw the characters, tell me what it’s like where you are!

Here’s the a-ha moment I had: While Matt was explaining to me why he is so involved with character building, he backed up for a moment and said, “Maybe it’s because I grew up playing Dungeons & Dragons and creating characters. That’s my favorite thing to do! I create the character I get to become!”

And that’s when it hit me. This whole time I have always struggled with creating characters in my stories, unable to put human characteristics into a fictional being to make them come alive, to make them real, and I have always failed. But I can spin a setting like it’s nobody’s business.  I can come up with ten different ways to say the word “happy” and I can write an impressive poem about the color yellow and I can describe a walk in the woods that actually encourages people to take their own walk in the woods because my walk in the woods sounded so damn delightful.  They want a damn delightful walk in the woods, too.

See, my whole life I have felt displaced, uprooted, and never able to settle in one spot. I think a sense of place is important. To me, a place can be a character. From an early age, we learn about similes and metaphors and, later, about anthropomorphism.  You want human characteristics? Go talk to the woods. Those trees could tell you stories that’ll make you cry. Go talk to a dining room table, the one that has been the cornerstone of family meals for generations.  She could probably tell you stories that’ll make you cry, too.  Oh, the dents, the dings, the knicks in her tabletop!  The crayon scribbles on the edges or the remnants of bubblegum on her underside! Yes, she’s got some stories.

So, the mystery is solved. I undoubtedly have always had an attachment to places, not people.  Too often people come and go, and I have come and gone, myself. But places?  They don’t usually leave and they are the memories to which I will always return.  And I think this conversation with Matt helped me to realize that I don’t need to be good at all things when it comes to writing.  I just need to be good, really good, at one thing and through the stories I build and create, I can make my one thing into everything.


About Dena

I'm a suburban Clevelander by way of Oklahoma City, by way of North Florida, by way of Southern Maryland, by way of Upper Michigan, by way of Northern Italy, by way of Lower Michigan, by way of Texas. Because of living in so many places, I have something in common with almost everyone I meet. I love reading, writing, and American history (especially reading or writing about American history). I'm interested in culture of place, historical trauma, and writing about the kinds of histories most people don't know about.
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4 Responses to How Dungeons & Dragons Made Me a More Confident Writer

  1. David Patterson says:

    What… no photographs? Just kidding…

    Very interesting… I enjoyed the read and introspection.

  2. ~Matt says:

    I always appreciate a good post with D&D involved!

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