Rolling the Dice and Creating Chaos

predictable plot.jpgHow many books have you read where you can guess exactly what is going to happen to the characters?  I know as a reader and editor I’ve been through a few.  It’s not that the characters are bad; they just don’t follow Murphy’s Law.  I get it.  Your character is the fastest gun in the land.  He/she can outdraw and outshoot anyone.  That can get pretty boring.  Or, you have to create insanely elaborate situations for them to navigate to challenge their prowess and entertain the mob (your readers).  Here’s an idea, instead of writing what should happen, leave it to fate.

This concept is pulled from the Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) realm.  For those of you who aren’t giant nerds like me, D&D is basically a game where one person creates a story and friends come and navigate it.  Each role-player has a character they created and they use dice to determine the effectiveness of their characters actions throughout the story.

The transition into using this in your own writing is simple.  Roll a die and let that determine how effective your character is at dealing with a situation. After all, even the fastest shooter in the world is still impacted by luck.

dice.jpgTake a die.  It can be a six-sided die like you find in a board game, or go to a hobby shop and grab a 20-sided one.  If you roll a one, that’s the worst possible thing that could happen.  If you roll a six (or twenty if you are using the 20-sided beauty) that’s the best outcome that could happen.

Here’s the application.  Let’s use my own character, Drake Nelson, from my upcoming book Wastelander: The Drake Legacy.  Drake is chilling out in a settlement and needs to go to the bar to quench his thirst.  He walks in.  Sitting at a table is notorious bad guy #3.  Notorious bad guy #3 smacks women around, steals milk from babies, and once killed a man for his horse only to let it run off into the sunset for dramatic effect.  Drake looks up at me and I know—notorious bad guy #3 must die.

Now Drake has ninja speed with his pistol.  If I stuck with his character blueprint, this would be an easy confrontation for him.  Especially because bad guy #3 is just a lousy thief, not an experienced gunfighter/renegade maverick like Drake.  So instead of sticking with the boring, I let the dice decide.

Critical Hit.JPGIf I roll a high number, the normal thing would happen.  Drake doesn’t say anything, he simply shoots the man in the face and notorious bad guy #3 falls backwards out of his chair.  Everyone in the bar cheers.  Women throw panties at him.  The bartender pours him a drink.  It’s kind of funny, but it’s also kind of boring.

If I roll a middle number, it can go either way.  Drake pulls the pistol from his hip.  The iron sights flash into focus for a millisecond and he begins applying tension to the trigger.  The town drunk, Steve (it always has to be Steve doesn’t it), stumbles into the bar and bumps Drake in the back as the gun recoils.  The bullet punches a hole in the ceiling and chunks of plaster land on notorious bad guy #3’s head.

Critical Fail.JPGIf I roll a low number, (say a one) that would be a critical fail. Drake doesn’t just fail, he fails miserably.  Drake grips his pistol and pulls it from the holster.  His hand moves so fast it’s a blur of black and silver.  Unfortunately, a bird had shit on his pistol handle earlier.  The feathered feces is still glistening and fresh. The slickness causes the pistol to fly from his hand.  It sails across the bar and smacks the unaware bartender in the forehead. Worse, the bartender is the mayor’s brother.  Now Drake has revealed his intention to notorious bad guy #3, disarmed himself, and assaulted the mayors brother.

Try it out for yourself.  Mix a little luck and chaos into your writing.  While I obviously don’t recommend you use this to drive all action (or even major plot points), it is a fun way to create an unexpected turn.  It’s especially useful if you aren’t entirely sure how your character is going to deal with a situation and your writing is stalling because of it.  This tool allows you to write some potential outcomes and if you feel they are lackluster, blame the dice and bad luck.

question-markIf you give it a try, let me know how it goes.  It usually is amusing to say the least.  That’s it for today.  Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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29 responses

  1. It’s nice to find someone else who thinks along the same lines. I always wanted to buy dice and do what you suggested, but frankly I’ve been just lazy.

    Though I did learn something from writing predictable stories.

    My mafia novel (not published) in its first drafts had everything that was predictable from knowing that my main will join the family and what she has to do to falling in love with the top dog.

    -After writing that version, I reread it and decided to find the things that made the story predictable and made major changes.Yes, my main still joins the family, but the main takes a different route to do it and she doesn’t fall the bad boy that was in the first version… mainly due to one extra scene that I added that made it more fun and exciting. So, now it’s all cookies and chocolate milk… though I am stuck now because this new version is less predictable, more fun, and a lot harder to write! But all the more fun!


    Liked by 1 person

    • Way to be able to look at your writing logically and isolate issues. Hope you find some pleasure in those rewrites, sometimes the unexpected can be the most fun to write. Thanks for reading and commenting. Good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As a monthly D&D player I am shocked I’ve never once had this idea! I suppose in our heads we often regard our characters with rigidity, and we think we know exactly where the story needs to go, but we also know from experience sometimes it’s the characters that dictate our own plots! All too many time’s I’ve been sat down writing, only to realise thing’s aren’t quite going how I’d thought they were, simply because the characters have a life of their own!

    I’m excited to give this idea a go, I’m a little scared to try it with my novel, but maybe I’ll try it with a short story or two? Haha.

    By the way, do you play? Or DM?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading and posting. It’s always good to cross words with a fellow adventurer!

      I used to play monthly like you do, but since I started the stay-at-home dad job I haven’t had an opportunity. (Also my wife and I recently moved, so we haven’t started throwing down roots yet). I hope to get back into it someday. I enjoy a good D&D session (with the right people around the table of course).

      Good luck as you try out the dice method, may the numbers be in your favor!


  3. Pingback: Build & Control Characters: Dungeon Style « Quintessential Editor

    • Thanks for swinging by and reading. I hope you have some fun with the idea. For me, the more fun I can have with my WIPs the more time and care I devote to them. Good luck 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. “Rolling the dice and creating chaos” — But it’s a diceless system, Corey. 🙂

    “How many books have you read where you can guess exactly what is going to happen to the characters?” — That’s not a fair question. Some readers are very, very good at picking up on the smallest of clues, and some wouldn’t notice deliberate foreshadowing if you smacked ’em upside the head with it.

    My preferred method of not making life too easy for an ultra-competent character is to put them in a situation where their best skills don’t apply. Your guy is an expert gunman? Throw him into a mess where shooting his way out won’t work.

    (You really need more than a single D6 if you’re going the random-chance route, because no one who’s really good at something is going to fail BADLY more than 16 percent of the time.)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I plan to go with my betas when I decide how to tweak the foreshadowing in my own work. If half of them don’t notice or even mention it, I’ll probably amp it up a bit.

      One of my alphas is what I would refer to as a mega-competent reader. He seems to consistently detect most foreshadowing, but also notes it’s rewarding when his assumptions ring true. For me, as long as the reader is investing in the book enough to bother making assumptions, I’m at least doing one thing right.

      Your fish out of water suggestion is smart. Making it rain on the sunshine hero is always a fun and interesting thing to do. This was an oversight I made in my discovery draft, which I attempted to remediate. We’ll see how that pans out for me…

      As for using more than one D6, the more the merrier! I have an antique candy bowl I found at an estate sale, and it’s brimming with dice of different colors and types. The trick is stopping my cat from batting them under furniture when I roll them.

      I was excited to read about your work on The Grumpy, Grouchy Old Man’s Guide to Grammar. I haven’t a chance to comment just yet (I read about it on my phone), but will when I get a chance. You can count on one book being purchased by me.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Great idea! It reminds me of the gunfight scene from “Shane”. A dog gets up and creeps out of the bar when Wilson (Jack Palance) stands up and walks over to Shane (Alan Ladd). Even though you know what’s going to happen, that single shot ratchets up the tension. There must have been some serious die rolling to come up with that one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shane! Such a classic movie. That’s a great scene.

      “A gun is a tool, Marian; no better or no worse than any other tool: an axe, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that.”

      What a line. While people may grin at the cheesiness of those old westerns, those stories still hold up (in my opinion). Thanks for stopping in and getting me all amped to watch some westerns 🙂


  6. The pictures of you with the die made me grin uncontrollably! hehe Thanks for brightening my day!
    I’ve never used dice for this sort of thing, but I’m a great proponent of not writing boring stories that turn out predictably, maybe I will try this some day, just for the heck of it.


    Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you enjoyed the goofy pics of me! I was converting my page to all copyright free images when I decided to do that. I thought the viking helmet (which everyone wore at our baby shower for Thor) was a nice touch 🙂

      Have fun letting the dice dictate some of the action. Even if you don’t end up using what you wrote, I feel you grow more familiar with your characters by forcing them to cope with situations out of the norm. If anything, it’s a great exercise in discovering the many facets of a character.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Glad you had some fun with the post today! I certainly appreciate you stopping in and reading. Good luck, and may the dice forever be in your favor 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I must implement this. I keep coming across decisions in the WiP and I’m not sure which way they should go. Thankfully I’ve got a full complement of polyhedrals at home, so maybe it’s time to give it a go.
    Thanks for bringing this one back to check out. Jeremy’s going to be in for a rough time if my rolling for choice is anything like my past rolling for D&D.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Poor Jeremy…

      I also seem to have bum luck with dice. Playing any board game that utilizes dice leads to my untimely demise. My wife, on the other hand, must of made a deal with the devil because she is stupid lucky with her rolls. I’ve been waiting for the luck to rub off on me, but now I think she has absorbed mine like some sort of luck succubus…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah, seeing as I left him with a knife next to his gentleman vegetables let’s hope I get lucky with the rolling!
        And yes, the luckubus. I have a similar thing while playing video games with the girlfriend.


  8. I’m an RPer too, but I’ve never tried this with a story! I might give it a shot with the current story I’m editing. No physical fights in this one–but plenty of political battles that could go either way . . . .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Have fun, it’s often fun and heartbreaking to play by these rules. I’ve written plenty of scenarios using this tool that likely won’t ever get placed into a book, but each time I understand the characters involved a little better.

      Liked by 1 person

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