Blog-Versary Author Post & Giveaway: Mason Thomas
Character Building, Gamer Style
Mouse, the main character in my first novel, existed long before he ended up on the page.
For many years, he was a favorite character of mine when I played Dungeons and Dragons. I am an unapologetic and loyal fan of the game. I’ve played since I was a teenager, and I still play regularly today. It has been a persistent force in my life as much as writing has—and, in fact, the two are intimately intertwined.
For those who aren’t familiar with how D&D works, it is a kind of shared hallucination, a cooperative story telling experience where everyone at the table takes on the role of an adventurer, and plays a part in the unfolding tale. The decision each player makes shapes the direction of the story. Events may be determined by the roll of the dice, but players must think creatively to solve problems and navigate their way through the adventure.
Part of the greatest appeal in playing D&D is building and developing your character. You can become whatever your imagination can dream up—following the rules and framework of the game, of course. That is the real power in the experience. You put yourselves in the boots of someone other than yourself and go out on an adventure. And throughout the experience, you must think “How is this person going to behave and respond in this situation?”
It’s the reason I feel that Mouse ended up so defined on the page. I understood him because I was him on alternating Friday nights, two times a month.
For a writer, this is rich and fertile ground. As I try to populate a story with vibrant characters that feel alive on the page, this experience can be invaluable—both eye-opening and transformative.
And over the years, I have learned that the simple act of making the characters in my novels into D&D characters makes them more dimensional, more dynamic, and more believable. I may not actually “play” them in game, but by simply creating a “character sheet”, I have a deeper understanding of who they are.
The reason this works is because of the character building framework the game provides. There are two fundamental parts of the “character sheet” that I now rely on regularly.
Each character has six primary stats that define who they are both physically and mentally: strength, dexterity, constitution, Intelligence, wisdom and charisma. Each of these categories is provided a random number (typically established by rolling three dice) that ranges from three to eighteen. The higher the number, the higher the character’s ability in that category.
By applying a definitive quantitative value to these categories, it helps establish a clear structure for the character with pin-point accuracy, an unambiguous reference point for which to gauge their behavior. While writing a scene, I will refer to those stats and it will guide me in how that character might act or respond. It also makes those reactions consistent throughout the writing. If I gave a character an eight intelligence, for example, (ten being average) it will remind that everything that character says should sound slightly dim. Or if I gave an eight for charisma, I would have the character consistently sounding clumsy and awkward when trying to express themselves. Folding these six stats into the scenes makes them multi-dimensional.
This tool is typically used less frequently in the game itself, but for a writer, it is a strong element to consider for character development. A character’s alignment is both their core morality and how it manifests itself.
The morality piece is rather basic: good, neutral or evil. That is paired with second indicator: lawful, neutral or chaotic. This establishes how one acts on their moral compass. The combination of the two is the alignment.
Lawful refers to there being a designated way of doing things. There is an established law—either externally or internally constructed. To a lawful character, there’s a right way and a wrong way of doing things.
A classic example of a Lawful Good alignment would be Captain America, or Jean Luke Picard. Dexter is a perfect example of Lawful Evil because he does terrible evil things, but follows a strict rule about the people he kills. Others would be Darth Vader, Hannibal Lector, or Lex Luther.
On the flip side, chaotic refers to someone who doesn’t necessarily have a code to follow. They are more reckless, unfettered—or at least more willing to improvise. Tony Stark and Dare Devil are strong examples of Chaotic Good characters, whereas Joffery Baratheon and the Joker are perfect for the alignment Chaotic Evil. Neutral alignments (Chaotic Neutral, Neutral good, etc.) fill in the spaces in between.
Establishing character alignment is terrific for helping determine your characters’ view of the world and their behavior, but it’s also wonderful for making sure that all your characters don’t all have the exact same morality, and all act on their morality the exact same way. Any well-developed story will have characters that fit all nine alignments. This makes the story feel as if it populated by very different types of people.
The process of character building in D&D challenges me to focus on all facets of my characters, which translates into more rounded and realistic portrayals on the page. Writers are always striving to find ways to put themselves deeper into their characters. D&D provides the authentic opportunity to actively be that character for a time. It is practice in the art of empathy.
A signed paperback or an e-book – winner’s choice – of either Lord Mouse or The Shadow Mark is up for offer to the winner of this giveaway. Simply leave a comment below before midnight October 25th ( US EST) for your chance to win a copy of one of these terrific gay fantasy books. (To ensure things run smoothly, the winner will be contacted within 24 hours of being drawn. Please contact us within 48 hours or the another winner will be drawn.) Thank you and good luck!
About the Author:
At age thirteen, Mason Thomas decided to write a letter to his favorite author, Isaac Asimov. A few weeks later, to his surprise, a postcard arrived for him in the mail. Typed out by Asimov personally–mistakes and all–and signed at the bottom.
And so began Mason’s writing journey. Inspired by not only Asimov’s work and his amazing wit, but also by the generosity and kindness he showed to a nerdy young fan, Mason has been writing stories ever since.
Mason is still just a nerdy teenager, although his hairline and belt length indicate otherwise. When his fingers are not pounding away at a keyboard, they can usually be found holding a video-game controller, plucking away at an electric guitar, or shaking a twenty-sided die during a role-playing game. Mason will take any opportunity to play dress-up, whether through cosplay, Halloween, or a visit to a Renaissance Faire. He pays the bills by encouraging middle school students to explore ideas and make a mess in his science classroom. He and his very patient husband, who has tolerated is geeky nonsense for two decades, love to travel whenever they can, but they spend most of their year residing in the amazing city of Chicago.
What a unique way of building characters. I know of a lot of authors who outline but it’s nothing at all like this. I’d have never thought to take what I’d learned from gaming and apply it to writing. It’s very interesting.
Thank you for stopping by to help us celebrate our 5th anniversary and for the great giveaway!
Thanks for inviting me!
Thank you for sharing. I’ve never played D&D but I know about how it’s suppose to be played. It’s quite time consuming I think but what game isn’t? I like the idea of it since it helps to build up a persons imagination among other things.
D&D is definitely a rabbit hole. Once you start it can snowball. Yes, it’s time consuming, but in the best possible way. It’s super fun and a great way to spend an evening with friends. If you ever get a chance, you should give a try.
I have never played D&D (though I would love to, it sounds so interesting every time I hear about it!), but this sounds like it could be really helpful as a writer! I’m def bookmarking this and going to try using these things or something similar to get to know my characters better. I’m currently trying to work on short stories inspired by my sims, so I totally get how playing a game could inspire a character or story. Also, I’ve been wanting to read Lord Mouse, so *fingers crossed* 🙂 Thanks for such a helpful post!
I’m so glad to hear that this has sparked some interest! And yes, you should definitely try to play D&D!!
Thanks for the post. I’ve only played D&D a few times back in university (way back) because friends wanted to play. But, I love that idea of a character sheet. I can see how that would be really helpful for developing a character.
It really is great for establishing who your character is at the core. Glad you enjoyed the idea!
I haven’t thought about plotting or planning books like this but you’ve given some food for thought. There are established roles in gaming that can cross over. I haven’t played D&D but I have toyed with writing for a couple of years and just knowing where I’m going can be tricky. Thanks for your tips.
There is indeed a lot of crossover. Not just for characterization but with plotting and storytelling too. And you should definitely give D&D a try. Consider it research 😀
I played D&D years ago when I worked in a comic book shop, the Everquest for a little while. I think that you have hit on an ingenious way to make a character complex and unique.
These are two of the best, and favorite books I’ve read this year, or any year. I look froward to more.
Thank you so much!! I’m glad you enjoyed my work. And you should totally pick up D&D again!
I love this idea for character building! I’m always looking for ideas to strengthen my characterization. Great post Mason Thomas!
Thanks so much!
Don’t know about D & D but I do know about reading M/M and fantasy and Lord Mouse combines the two beautifully, Joel Leslie’s narration really brought Mouse to life too! I am looking forward to The Shadow Mark, it’s on my wish list but I haven’t got it yet……
Joel is brilliant and I couldn’t have asked for a better narrator. I’m so lucky to have had him read my work. Glad you enjoyed him too.
I’ve been toying with the idea of playing D&D for a long time now (have several friends who play) and this definitely makes it that much more enticing. I have found myself using the morality alignment with my characters so I can keep things consistent both on the page and in my head. Very helpful. Thank you for this ^^
Thank you!! Definitely give D&D a try. So fun!!