What RolePlay Taught Me About Writing
For the last four years, I have been a member of a large True Blood roleplaying group across several online sites–Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr. The group I’m a part of has been writing one continuous storyline spanning that entire time. Some people dedicate themselves to creating one specific character, while others play several roles on an as needed basis. All of the people in the group are talented, creative, funny, and fascinating, and in that four years working with them to tell stories, I have learned a lot about writing. It’s a great training ground for writers to develop their own voice and style. It’s also wonderful practice in an environment that makes learning fun for everyone.
Lessons I’ve learned through RP:
- Writing doesn’t have to be solitary. RP is a fantastic chance to collaborate with others, and it has taught me how to write alongside someone else. I would love to have the chance to write a short story or novel as a joint project with another author, because I have learned how to listen, how to share, and how to expand my own ideas by listening to others.
- Accepting constructive criticism is essential and the editing process should be collaborative and non-threatening. RP is all about listening to others and seeing another side to a project you’re working on. If you’re going to work with others on a storyline, you have to be willing to listen to their ideas, suggestions for improvements, and be grateful when they notice spelling errors or plot holes or ways the story should be expanded or cut for clarity. Working with an editor is the same process. The editor should be someone the writer collaborates with, not someone who is seen as a threat. Your ego as a writer has no place in the editorial process. It’s essential to realize that the editor is there to help you improve your story, not take away your voice.
- Planning your storyline is essential to the writing process. When writing long RP storylines, the group I work with always has an outline for large group RPs so everyone knows his/her role in the plot and can keep track of what’s happening with the other characters. We schedule events and plan how long it will take to write each part. This type of organized plotting is essential for writers. Currently, I’m writing a mystery, and in order to complete the novel on time and to make sure that I give the right clues at the right moment in the plot, every chapter has to be carefully planned. I know approximately how many pages each chapter is, when I’m dropping the next cliffhanger/clue, and what each character is doing in every scene.
- The key to having great characters is having a detailed character description before you ever begin writing. In RP, if you’re going to make the role you’re playing believable, you have to know that character inside and out. What makes the person tick? What are their fears, motivations, and goals? What is the person’s backstory that leads them to the place where he/she takes part in the plot? What is going to be the final outcome for the character in the storyline? How does he/she interact with the other characters? All these same questions must be answered when writing any type of fiction. If my characters are going to be believeable, I have to know every detail of their lives. Otherwise, their actions will seem false to readers and will throw off the rest of the story.
- Cliffhangers keep people coming back for more. Our RP group has several “fans” who follow our characters’ storylines. The key to maintaining their interest in what’s happening is having a cliffhanger with nearly everything we write. Whether it’s a short paragraph teasing the next big plot or a long group RP, every story ends with a cliffhanger. The same is true in fiction writing. Cliffhangers keep people coming back for more. They want to know what’s going to happen next. It makes them think about possible scenarios for how things might play out.
- Interacting with the audience/readers is the number one most effective way to keep them coming back for more. Readers of our RP group love getting to interact with us, either in comments on our story posts or inboxes asking about the next storyline. They love getting the chance to talk to us both in and out of character and feeling like they have inside understanding of us as a group. And they like joining in active online formats for talking with both you and other readers. The same is true for fiction writers. If you want to maintain and grow an audience for your writing, get to know our readers. Talk to them. Interact with them. Give them places and ways to share with you and with one another. If they feel a connection with you personally, then they’re not only more likely to keep reading what you write, but they’re also likely to tell others about you and help you find new readers. They will share your links, your photos, your information, and help you increase your visibility. They will talk with one another about you, about your posts, about things that you all have in common. It will also increase your audience’s sense of group identity and the likelihood that you will have a fan base who have a sense of pride in your success.
- Your only limitations are your own imagination. In my RP group, we write across several “verses,” combining characters from True Blood, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Walking Dead, Interview with a Vampire, General Hospital, Doctor Who, and many more right alongside original characters who take part in the action as well. If someone can justify the character and make the actions believable within the storyline, they are free to let their imagination soar. The same should be true of fiction writing. The only limitation is yourself. As long as what you write has an internal logic within the universe you’re creating, then there is no limit to what you can create.