Magic Oracle Die . . . or the Fun Chaos Factor of Pantsing!
If you haven’t noticed by now from reading some of my previous articles, I love employing dice into the creative process; probably because I’ve always been a tabletop gamer at heart (Dungeons & Dragons is stating the glaring obvious, I grew up playing beloved HeroQuest that will always hold a special place in my heart, I currently enjoy the excellent and highly recommended Four Against Darkness rpg for solo adventurers whenever I have a spare hour to dungeon-delve between writing and life, and I’m also working on finishing up a rules-lite homebrew solo rpg of my own design presently titled ‘One-Shot Dungeon’ that will hopefully soon see publishing release and, if enough others also enjoy it, may include future add-ons via adventure books, campaign expansions and character additions).
So here’s another fun little dice-ditty to add to your writerly repertoire that’s worked well for me.
I’m a plotter by nature, but sometimes it’s fun to buck the trend and do a little pantsing every now and again. I enjoy challenging myself like that because it leads me down new and unexpected avenues of creativity otherwise untapped.
And I do this with my magic oracle die.
What’s that, you ask?
What is a magic oracle die?
I unexpectedly procured it one fine day when taking my only cow for sale to market, and it’s served me well ever since.
My magic oracle die is simple, really. The one-eyed traveling merchant who constantly twisted the ends of his dark moustache while cackling during our fateful trade swore it was blessed by the Gods who farted on it before casting it to Earth from the glorious heavens above.
One six-sided die, it be, and each side represents an answer to any Yes or No question I ask of it while also providing that answer an interesting little string of influences attached I might not otherwise think of.
While writing from the seat of my pants, I often pause and ask my magic oracle die a Yes or No question then roll and consult its result.
I call this the Chaos Factor because it introduces surprising and random though logical events into your writing you wouldn’t otherwise think of on the fly as your fingers tap-tap-taparoo away at the keyboard.
So make yourself a tiny chart to keep on hand while writing to consult whenever you get stuck, bored, curious, or just want to throw a monkeywrench into your scenes and see what happens.
Here’s the Chaos Factor chart of my magic oracle die (the numbers assigned are arbitrary because you have a 1 in 6 chance of rolling each response):
1. No . . . And . . . And.
2. No . . . And . . . But.
3. No . . . But . . . And.
4. Yes . . . But . . . And.
5. Yes . . . And . . . But.
6. Yes . . . And . . . And.
*You could also use a blank die and, with a Sharpie, write abbreviations of the chart results on its six respective sides: NAA, NAB, NBA, YBA, YAB, YAA.
TIP: the magic oracle die also works great while plotting your initial outline!
What this Chaos Factor chart represents is the initial answer to your Yes or No question followed by two additional effects dependent upon the response preceding it.
For example, you roll #6 (Yes . . . And . . . And) for the response to your question: Knowing two armed guards await her on the other side of a closed door because she sneakily pursued them here without their knowing . . . “Does my female protagonist detective throw caution to the wind and successfully kick in the door?”
(Yes) she manages to kick in the door that hits the first armed guard right in the startled kisser, (And) the unexpected impact knocks him out cold, (And) his gun fires a stray bullet during his unconscious collapse to the floor, shooting the second armed guard in the stomach while incapacitating him for interrogation.
Understand that this is not how you would literally write the scene, this is just a short sequential reveal of how the events possibly happen. If you like the result then you would obviously write the scene all the way through in more detail and with better description. If you don’t like the result then just reroll for another.
Now let’s say you instead rolled #5 (Yes . . . And . . . But) in response to the same question.
(Yes) she manages to kick in the door that hits the first armed guard right in the startled kisser, (And) the unexpected impact knocks him out cold, (But) his gun fires a stray bullet during his unconscious collapse to the floor, shooting the protagonist in her thigh while the commotion alerts the second armed guard to her newly injured presence who raises his gun and draws a steady bead upon her exposed position.
That’s two Yeses, but what if you’d rolled a No instead? Okay, let’s pick one at random and find out where it leads us.
You ask the same question, then roll the magic oracle die and get result #2 (No . . . And . . . But).
(No) she fails to kick in the door that proves so fragile her eager foot bursts through the rotting wood, (And) her kicking leg becomes awkwardly captured up to the thigh within the hole of her debacle while alerting the two armed guards on the other side to her intrusive and now vulnerable presence, (But) she manages to free herself just in the nick as enemy bullets pierce through the door in a spray of splinters while whizzing past her by inches as she tumbles backwards to the floor where she lays shooting a rapid return of blind gunshots that kills one guard while injuring the other — revealed after she risks sitting up, pistol clip spent, and views through the jagged hole of her initial kick upon the riddled door at the injured guard who sits clutching his stomach next to his dead companion, his gun abandoned to staunch the bleeding with his pressing hands.
(Yes) I added a bit of writerly flair to that last example for fun’s sake, (And) I could go on and on providing endless examples of my magic oracle die, (But) I’ll stop it here because I think you grasp the concept of how its wonderful Chaos Factor of influence works by now.
So grab your own magic oracle die and have some fun testing it out!