How I Overcame Writer’s Block with the Nerd World


I have to confess something to you… two weeks ago I took the plunge and played Dungeons and Dragons for the first time. Yes, the roll-the-dice, choose your warlock/dwarven/halfing adventure that Dan Harmon termed the “fantasy game [people play] to escape their awkward lives.” Promising, eh?

My high school self would be baffled (“I thought I was supposed to be cool by 24!” she would lament) and honestly, my 3 month ago self would be pretty confused too. But since then, I’ve discovered something. Let me lead you into the dark realm of the nerd where brilliant writing resources have been hiding for decades…


I’ve started a new novel but after the initial scene, I’d been floundering. I had vague senses about my characters and the world but lacked organization and to-the-point resources. As fate would have it, my fellow writer and husband Wesley O’Bryan, was putting together a Dungeons and Dragons campaign at the same time and, since I didn’t want to spend years putting together the story like I did with my first novel, I decided to do something a little unorthodox.

Dungeons & Dragons: Character and Setting Storehouse

D&D is a group role playing game which occurs in the group’s collective imagination and is guided by a narrator figure (the Dungeon Master) who has created the world, character, and events that the team plays through.

In D&D, each player is responsible for building their own character, complete with bonds, flaws, ideals, equipment, and morality, and they do it all through the Player’s Handbook. I don’t know how no one –not in my writing classes, groups, or followed blogs– told me about this gold mine.

Creating Characters

The Player’s Handbook lines out the categories necessary to create a full character and then gives at least eight options within each category to guide you. It adds up to quite the encyclopedia of options.

If you’re looking for inspiration or help in forming more complete characters, I highly recommend checking out the Player’s Handbook (either buying or checking it out at your library– most libraries carry D&D materials). And don’t worry– I think you’re actually less likely to make cookie cutter characters when using this type of resource because it presents so many ways to nuance your creations.

Organizing Characters

To keep track of characters and make sure that they’re fully built out, D&D has created character sheets, which I have linked here.  It’s an excellent format that can be bent to your own purposes.

Forming a World

The Dungeon Master’s Guide is a manual put together with the express purpose of equipping people to create a world full of religions, dialects, systems of magic, organizations, villains, and civilizations that characters can travel through and interact with. Sounds a bit like what fiction writers have to do… There’s even chapter dedicated to the elements of a great adventure.

The guide provides strategies and charts upon charts of options for building each element of the world. It can either be used as a jumping off point or as a step by step tool.

If you do decide to drop your coolness factor by 15 and use this treasure trove of a resource, you’ll find you’re not as alone as you think. Even though the D&D materials were created for a specific game, I have discovered that many authors have used the resources for their novels *cough, Brandon Sanderson and his Way of Kings* or have even based books on the adventures they played out in the game. And hopefully you’re beginning to see why.


Abigail (or a bear named Ethel, an ambassador hailing from the Banthorn Mountains in the D&D campaign) signing off. Probably to do something… nerdy.

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