Let me start out by specifying what kind of role playing I mean, since there are several different kinds. According to Wikipedia it is called Play-By-Post, which is actually the first time I’ve ever heard the term. Around the communities I used to frequent it was referred to as Text-Style Roleplaying. Yes, with roleplaying as one word, in case you thought that was a typo. ^-^
[Not to be confused with Text BASED role playing, which involves MUD and is a completely different animal.]
Of course neither of these terms are very helpful to those who are not already involved with a roleplaying community. So, to explain, Text-Style Roleplaying is basically writing a story with other people. However unlike tandems, or other forms of collaborative writing, you are only allowed to write your own character. Also, the story is usually led by one person, who makes all final calls with regard to story direction and character conflict. Other rules apply based on the community or story leader. (Also called a game leader or thread leader)
Although it’s been on and off these last couple of them, I’ve been participating in this form of roleplaying for somewhere around ten years now. In that time, I’ve discovered that not only is it fun, it’s a great way to work on your writing. Here are a few of the reasons why.
Fair warning, this will probably be another long post. ^-^
1. Practice, Practice, Practice!
The cardinal rule of pretty much anything you want to be good at is to practice. If you are part of an active community, or if you are like me and can’t resist having several characters going at once, then you will definitely being writing well over five-hundred words a day. Even in less active threads or communities it is fairly easy to hit five-hundred plus word counts.
There are even communities that require a certain word count per post, if you like a challenge.
And of course there is the ‘other people counting on you’ aspect, which can make it a lot easier not to make up excuses for why you can’t write today. ^-^
2. Dialogue and Description
In particular I believe that roleplaying is great for people who need practice with dialogue. Not only are you writing a lot of it, you also get to play with all kinds of different dialogue scenes: emotional, investigative, romantic, antagonistic. I know that personally I have struggled with dialogue in romantic situations. Being able to play around with different characters in different situations has really helped me a lot.
And even playing quieter characters (and many of mine fall in this category) you get some good practice with internal dialogue. ^-^
As for description it’s pretty much the same thing. Perhaps describing the setting falls more onto the story leader, but as a player you will definitely get lots of practice describing your character’s actions and reaction. As with dialogue, you also get a chance to play with lots of different scenes: fight scenes (across various genres no less), chase scenes, romantic scenes, torture scenes… the list goes on.
3. Character Development
This is where I think roleplaying really shines. Unless you are leading a thread, your main concern is your character. Who and where are they in relation to the story? How do they react to various events, or other characters? How does that affect what they are already dealing with!? I feel this intense focus on character is not only beneficial, but pretty unique to this form of writing.
And it starts right from the beginning. Before you can get into the story with your character, you have to create a bio for them. ‘Bio’ is short for biography, and it contains all your character’s pertinent information. They will range in complexity and even format depending on what info the Thread Leader finds necessary, but almost all of them include basics like character name, age, and history which can be filled out in a variety of creative ways.
(You generally find form styled ones, like this)
This is actually a tool that you will find in many a writer’s kit, because it is so helpful for figuring out your characters, or just keeping all their facts in one place. Personally, I learned bios from Roleplaying, and so I will always associate them with it. Plus, reading other people’s bios can give you lots of great ideas for being creative with how you present your characters. I have a friend who once did her character bio as a series of lab reports. It was so cool, I felt I had to try something similar with my character, who was connected to hers. ^-^ So, I wrote my bio as a series of emails. Challenging, but probably the most fun I’ve ever had with a bio.
Which sort of leads me into my next point.
Interacting with, and playing off of, other people is one of the main components of roleplaying; and it is one of my favorite things about this form of writing. I love the give and take, the interesting roads a character can go down when your plans are not the only ones in the mix.
As writers we are sometimes guilty of bending our characters around to fit our plotty desires. Or perhaps we don’t know how our characters would react in a certain situation, so we simply skip over their reactions. Not only is this just bad, but readers will notice. Seriously, those readers are sharp!
In a roleplay you have the chance to put aside plot concerns and focus on simply reacting in character. Better still, the reactions you get in turn will depend on the other players and their characters. Oftentimes other characters’ goals will be in direct opposition to yours and they will put obstacles in your path just by pursuing those goals. This is actually one of the basic tenants of storytelling and conflict, but many times it is easy to forget when we get wrapped up in crafting the perfect plot. When you are roleplaying a lot of things are out of your hands, and I’ve found that to be very helpful in teaching myself to remember. ^-^
Another, perhaps more obvious, benefit of roleplaying interactions is that you get to see a lot of different styles of writing. Not all of them are good, I grant you. However, even people who’s style you dislike can help you to figure out what you do like, not to mention that a roleplaying post rife with meh and typos is a lot easier to get through than an entire book full of them. Besides, there are people out there who are amazing; truly a joy to play with and read. In fact I have been privileged to know and write with a small group of these amazing writer’s for many years.
And last, but certainly not least, we have…
5. Science! Mwhahahahaha! (Well, I really mean ‘experimentation’, but I couldn’t resist.)
Roleplays have a different feel to them than a book or a short story. It feels more like a game, and less like something permanent, something with a lot of your own expectations, hopes, dreams, and so on riding on it. For this reason, roleplaying can be a really easy and fun way to try new things with just about any part of your writing.
Want to try your hand at a new genre? There’s a roleplay for that. You find world building both intriguing and terrifying? Running a roleplay can be a good way to get your feet wet. Have an idea for a character, but can’t quite pin them down? Pulling a character out of their home genre, or even just their story, and plunking them down in situations beyond your control is an excellent way to find out what makes them tick.
One of my personal favorite things to do is to use a character over several different games, reincarnating them into various genres and stories. Partially because many roleplays end way too soon, but also because it’s a just a really interesting way to explore and grow a character. In fact Amariyah, the main character from my next project, comes from a series of character incarnations going back almost to my very first forays into roleplaying. Lana, from ‘Picking Up the Trail’, is technically from the same set of incarnations, but comes more from the evolution of an idea than from the original character itself. ^-^
Honestly, I could on and on about this topic. I probably will at some future date. For now though, I hope you found this list interesting, and possibly informative and intriguing as well! I honestly don’t know where the best sites are anymore, as I’ve been playing almost exclusively with my small group since MSN Groups got the axe. However I did manage to find this Directory, and I think if you poke around there you’re likely to find one that interests you… if you happen to be interested. ^-^