Guide: Transitioning into Roleplay
Hey there! To kick off the start of this rpc/rpcw blog, I decided write up a guide on kicking off your own rp'ing, particularly if you're coming from a novel or story-writing background! It should also be helpful in fine tuning your replies to writing partners in a para-format and creating your roleplay.
Question on your mind? Request a guide!
Roleplaying can be an incredibly fun and rewarding experience, but even coming from a strong writing background you might have trouble finding your footing in getting into this new rhythm. Below are a few tips in how to incorporate novel and short-prose writing skills into your roleplay, and the elements that don’t translate and should be avoided.
(+) The Writer's Toolkit
If you’re used to writing, then you probably already have a personal toolkit. A toolkit is a general term for anything you use in your writing, from foundational things to the extras that help it come to life. Any basic one should include imagery, plot, and attention to detail, all of which help to build and flesh out replies, character biographies, plots, stories, history and anything else under the roleplay umbrella.
Imagery is what allows your reader, writing partner, or prospective applicant to connect to your world and character(s). In the “description” section below there is a bit more on engaging your reader/partner, but the staples of imagery are the five senses. The more you stick to and appeal to the five senses (along with kinesthetic/motion) the more your partner will connect with the action occurring.
Plot is the basis of everything in the roleplay world, and more of a concern for those writing roleplays. More detail on this can be found in the “catalyst” section. The main thing to remember is that no matter how fantastic your characters are or your setting is, nothing can happen and no one can develop until there’s at least one central conflict or transition in your roleplay. Conflict falls under the categories “man versus man” (a protagonist/central character versus an antagonist/opposing character(s)), “man versus nature” (character versus force that is inhuman), or “man versus self” (internal conflict). For a roleplay, the first two are most conducive to writing and plotting.
Attention to detail doesn’t just mean remembering certain facts or continuity. It means that use of detail is crucial, and you can translate what you know from novel-writing into roleplay. Including every fact about a character or setting ever is going to inundate your partner or potential applicants. By only including relevant details you create a clearer picture, and by holding back other details that, while still true, aren’t necessary at the moment you have more to expand on later. You’re creating a more realistic picture: after all, you don’t know everything about someone the first time you meet them, do you? It’s a constant learning experience and remembering that will keep your writing healthy and constantly feeling new. As a prose writer you might already know this as time on a page- you can guide your reader’s or partner’s attention by allowing different things different amounts of time in your writing.
(+) The Long and Short of It
This refers to your sentence structure when writing replies. It’s a great thing to carry over from your story writing experience. By utilizing different sentence lengths, you can elicit very particular emotions from your reader or partner.
For example, if you want to evoke the feeling of length of tediousness in your narration (non dialogue), that is often achieved by long lists that aren’t written as “item, item, and item” but rather, “item and item and item.”
An example from literature: in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macbeth delivers a soliloquy after learning of his wife’s death that includes the line “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty place.” It forces the reader to think of days stretching out ceaselessly.
This is sometimes referred to as “extra glue,” as in more conjunctions (and, but, or) holding the sentence together than necessary.
The short of it is just as important. Mixing sentences of short, medium, and long lengths mimics human speech and thought. And when you suddenly have a short sentence surrounded by much longer ones it will resonate profoundly. It evokes emotion.
Every story needs a spark, a “why now” moment, a reason as to why it’s happening now: a catalyst. This is more for creating a roleplay than a reply to a partner- when you’re making a roleplay, you’re creating that spark rather than the story around it (like you would in a novel). You need to capture one thing that answers the question, “why now?”
Say you have a medieval fantasy setting- they’re fun and popular and you get to create a world that’s entirely your own. But the idea of the setting isn’t enough. It’s great to have a country, a royal family, your own brand of magic, a collection of mystical beasts, even a new language or religion, but you can’t move forward until there is at least one central change or conflict. Something has to happen to motivate your characters into taking action, even if that action is small.
A quick fix to see if you have a catalyst (and to make one) is to imagine your plot as a story. If you were expanding this world into a fully written story, what would your conflict be? What is the rising action that sets your characters on a path? You should be at the junction between exposition and rising action on the chart below (or between rising action and climax):
And yes you’ve seen this chart a hundred times in your English class- but it’s always a good idea to hold onto fundamental things. Your structure will be better with solid building blocks!
(-) Overly descriptive and tediously redundant luridly
ostentatious descriptive passages that describe-
- You get the idea. You will often see guides and sources tell you to cut out as much description as you can, or take an axe to all your adverbs and adjectives. I don’t think that’s necessary! Description is like the spices that go into a dish- without them, it’s hard to tell what you’re eating, but too much can overwhelm your finished product.
Novelists (and even short-story writers) have to learn to give their audience enough description so they can clearly picture the setting, characters, and emotion but not so much that they don’t let their reader shape the world the rest of the way with their imagination. It’s dangerous to overload, even if you think it makes your writing sound more formal or somehow better. When roleplaying, remember how much enjoyment you get from reading a response that lets you fall into the place of your character and experience that emotion- that’s what you want your partner to feel, so overwhelming them with descriptions of exactly your character’s shade of eye color is going to take them out of the response.
A good rule of thumb is to go back through your reply and whenever it’s possible, replace literary description with physical description. For example, say you have this written: “She was normally so composed but now, as the beast loomed over her, fear took over. It was icy and sickly dark, and tangled in her anatomy. She was absolutely terrified, more frightened than she could ever remember being.” It’s true that it might sound pretty and be acceptable if you’ve already spent a few chapters dedicated to describing this character, but you can clean this up by describing her physicality. “The beast’s shadow fell over her, and her heart pounded in her throat loud enough to drown out the sound of its snarls. Her hands were clammy, her knees felt nonexistent. Like she’d fall if she tried to move.” That’s not perfect but it’s more succinct, and now the reader can actually put themselves in the character’s place. This is evoking empathy over sympathy.
Don’t be afraid to have fun with words and descriptions, but ultimately you don’t want to take your partner out of the experience by inundating them with purple prose. Balance is key.
As you can see, this is general- a few fundamental points and a few on embellishing. Most likely I’ll post another part to this, but I hope this is enough to get aspiring roleplayers and current writers started in using the skills they already have in a new way!
For upcoming guides, check here