(TL;DR: Actually, you may want to read this. So please do. If you're disappointed with reading it, yell at me in the comments for wasting a few minutes of your life. I hope you aren't, though!)
As some of you may know, writing is something of a passion of mine. From a very early age, I always knew that it was the characters in books that fascinated me, and I always wanted to take hold of the stories and make them something different somehow. I wanted to explore where no one has gone and break down the barriers that were words on a page, to make them something that wasn't written in stone.
Obviously, it's impossible to really change something that's already been written. Oftentimes, you don't really want to! And in any case, that's what fanfiction is for. But sometimes, just sometimes, you can explore a universe with others. It can be your own, or one you both enjoy, or perhaps one a -group
- of individual people enjoy and agree to play together in.
But not everyone is a writer. This is just the truth of life. Not everyone has the time, practice, or mind to sit down and write gads of stories just to have enough experience to Roleplay effectively.
And that's kind of where this comes in.
In this small essay, I will outline some issues that I often see individuals having when they create a roleplay, and I will discuss these issues from my point of view, as well as give tips and tricks on how to avoid them. Keep in mind that as these are only my own opinions, they are by no means the one and only way to do things. The reader is more than free to disagree with my thoughts and methods and continue with their own.
But hey: nothing ventured, nothing gained.
1. Setting a Scene
This is one of the biggest issues roleplayers have that I've seen. It's easy to think of two characters, but then a hundred other questions pop up, and here I am, out to tell you the what, whys, hows, and ehs of this type of thing! So without further ado, lets focus on the first aspect of our scene creating powers...
Oho, you thought it would be characters, right? Not so! In my own opinion, the most important aspect you can ever have in a scene is the setting. The environment you place your characters in MUST challenge them or complement them in some way, or your story and roleplay loses much of its intended effect. Just as a docile player may show more of their true self in a peaceful environment, they will display no initiative to move the story or plot along and may end up stagnating in boring dialogue. The same goes for a dramatic scene. If you set a fight scene that is meant to cause dramatic tension in an empty room, you are effectively cutting your own throat, because there is nothing to use other than the floor, and no one to see the action or cause NPC interaction.
But lets go on a small tangent before we get a little deeper into the necessity of environments and why a roleplay needs more than just the most generic base.
NPCs (aka Non-Player Characters).
Why would I need NPC interaction? I can just see you asking yourself that. And I ask you this. Do you buy anything when you go out to a store? Doesn't work very well when you don't have a cashier, does it? Unless everyone in your world gets the day off from work and is hopelessly addicted to the internet at home, there should be more people than your own characters drifting about. These people help set an environment, and they help flesh out a world for your character to be in, even if they're just a mention on the fly. Contrary to popular belief, your character DOES NOT have to ONLY talk to the character your RP partner(s) is providing.
In fact, it grants insight, believability, and interest to drag more characters into a scene. They are a very important and necessary part of any populated setting.
Now back to Environment and how it affects what you roleplay.
Basically, the simple truth of it is if you want something to happen in your roleplay, the first step is to try not to kill yourself before you start with the wrong -where- you roleplay, or god forbid forget this aspect altogether and just throw characters on a white plane of space. What are you doing?? Stop that! If you want -action-, pick a setting that caters to action. An active volcano is a wonderful place for drama. So is a bathroom, and a restaurant, and a crowded hallway. An out of the way corner or walk-in pantry can provide a good setting for a comfort RP where two characters want to be alone, but can't quite remove themselves entirely. A windowsill outside a small shop can invite scenes from the street or hallway to affect characters, or even inside the shop.
The -very first
- challenge your character has is adapting to where they are. Make the most out of it.
Yeah, here's a big one. Making a scene involving characters is sometimes a total flop because people chose -the wrong characters to interact-. Even I've done this on occasion. I get an RP set up. I have an environment and characters all ready, and then I get started and realize suddenly that -these characters don't fit at all-.
In some ways, it's an exercise in foresight. You have to have a bit of an idea of how your characters respond to one another and how far you can stretch an RP so it ends up satisfying for both you and the person you're RPing with (when did RP become sex, btw?). Otherwise there are bad feelings all around (*cough cough hack cough*) and the RP usually ends up unfinished or forgotten.
Aka. Do not choose characters that SUCK when put together (*cough hack coughs some more*).
A good example would be two completely docile characters that will not make any action unless prompted by another character. You will end up with a very long, very slow RP that generally has -nothing happen- in the entire thing. You will not be happy about this. Believe me. You must choose characters that can play off from one another and keep up a steady pace of dialogue and interaction to keep interest. As for what characters can achieve that together? There are no standards that define that. You have to -know
- your own creations and how you use them. So think wisely.
Too much or two little, both can be an issue. So you have your characters, you have your scene, and you have your environment, right? But ain't nothing gonna happen unless there's some sort of conflict! This is something a lot of new Rpers tend to avoid because we, as a society, are taught that CONFLICT BAD. So we often end up shy even when it's not in character to do so. But the entire basis of any story is rooted in some sort of strife. Look anywhere and you can see it, even in the driest ancient novel from the most censored dusty tome in history (disclaimer: I have no idea what book that might be, or what's actually in it, but now I'm curious).
So you can't be too afraid to cause something in an RP. I'm not saying jump in out of character and start slashing everyone a new smile on their chests just because you think an RP is too boring, I'm saying -there is always something to work toward or against-. Large scale conflict -does
- tend to be more interesting, and you can involve more people and spawn more RPs, but you can't forget the small conflicts of everyday life, either. Character disagreements and NPC comments can make for great ways to illustrate an issue without throwing it in the face of someone you're RPing with. We all don't go around flying off the handle at each other because sudden mass shootouts make life more fun or anything. I don't really expect serious characters to go that route, and you shouldn't either.
However, if you are at a loss for conflict, there is advice I heard somewhere that amounts to 'when in doubt, add ninjas'. Of course it isn't (generally) literal. It means that if you simply cannot find something for your character to work toward, when you are -utterly- at a loss, then be spontaneous! If you don’t have something fully figured out yet... don't worry. Roleplay has a way of developing on it’s own, and as your characters seek to uncover the mystery of this new thing, you will slowly be able to discover what you were doing all on your own, and (hopefully) bring it to a satisfying conclusion with the sense that you really had a wild ride.A sidenote about conflict and characters together.
I talked about docile characters earlier, and how too little conflict and too little initiative can stall a plot. A mouthy character can be a wonderful thing that sparks character development, conflict, and action all on their own. However, a mouthy character that has -too much
- aptitude for causing issues has a potential to completely destroy and derail a plot all on it's own. The door swings both ways. Either way, when you get on too much of a tangent from the original plot, you threaten to lose your way in the forest, and there's no magic thread that will get you back easily.
Do it, but don't -overdo
2. Action, dialogue, and Making Things Happen
Oh hey! Welcome back for section two! This section deals with another big issue people have in roleplays that I've seen (and hey, I've had these issues too!), and how to deal with them as they come up. So pull up a chair, have a sit, and clap your hands, because it's time for ACTION.
2a. Action: Fighting
Here's a doozy I've seen people pitch a fit about. Fighting. It happens, especially when you have that little thing called CONFLICT down pat. Normally, two sensible Rpers with even tempers can RP characters fighting with no issues. Rpers that have a long history together will do it commonly and make it look incredibly easy, but the truth is, feelings get hurt when your character does. You can't avoid it, it just happens.
The one thing I always recommend if you're going to have characters fight and aren’t used to your current RP partner? KEEP UP A DIALOGUE OOC. Discuss the moves you're making, clarify what you don’t understand, and above all -decide who will win or what will happen
-. Do NOT fight for supremacy via your 'avatar'd characters'. That's just asking for trouble, and it isn't trouble you want when you're trying to enjoy yourselves.
Your character is not invincible; they WILL get hurt unless the fight is a more friendly or very short one. This is the one area where people get up in arms about most, and generally, I find that letting go is a good policy. Do not baby your character; they got into a fight and now they have to deal with it if it hurts. On the opposite route, do not put your character on the 'I am the best' pedestal and powerplay your way to victory, ignoring all wounds in the meantime. You will lose respect and often, you will lose most (if not all) RP you used to get from your opponent. It's not that hard to ask someone if you can do a cool move you just thought up that involves having to autohit, but it is VERY hard to be forgiven for ignoring your opponent's wishes.
Be sensible. Be smart. And be sociable. Fighting doesn't have to be this huge and terrible challenge.
2b. Action: Body Language
This is something so many people miss, and I thought it deserved it's own section because it gets ignored so often.
You see; humans (and most other creatures) are a highly visual species. Normally, this behavior can migrate to RPs, though it -rarely
- does beyond the obvious for the sake of speed. A smile is an example of obvious body language. So is a laugh, or a frown, or giving someone the finger.
But what about the more subtle cues? Here. Let me lay down a good example to show you just what I mean about all of this:'He walked to the counter angrily, put down his drink, and said, "I need my money."'
This gets the point across, right? Guy's angry. He wants his money, and he has a drink. What kind of drink is it? Don't care; don't need to be that specific. The fact that he has one is enough. But lets try this again using body cues, the language that can say so much more without having to say much at all:'He moved to the counter stiffly, hitting his drink down with a hard 'CLUNK' as he growled, "I need my money."'
Wow, look at that! You don't even have to know what emotion the character is conveying to know he's PISSED. In the first sentence, if we took out the word 'angrily'... well, the character could very well just be ambling up and mentioning something politely. He certainly doesn't seem angry.
Even in our minds, we as humans are visual creatures. We -need
- these body cues to really get a sense of things. So while I will agree that just saying outright is a -faster
- method, if you want that extra oomph to what you do, use the kind of actions that people have to really read into. It's amazingly helpful with characters that aren't inclined to talk much, and show most of their opinion in how they carry themselves.
Oh, man this one. I think I could write for years and never actually convey everything there is about good dialogue. Or... bad dialogue, as the case may be. In fact I kind of dread even touching this subject, so I may end up giving some links to some great dialogue based tip essays to help you out on some of the other aspects. Here, for THIS tip segment, I want to focus on one thing I see happen in more RPs than I like.
Writing without a voice.
...I'm sure that's not the technical term for things. But basically, this is writing a character in your own OOC 'voice' that you use online. Believe it or not, people can actually tell if you're using a different 'tone' when you're writing your characters. So you have to be able to cultivate more than one dialogue style, or every single one of your characters will end up sounding -exactly the same
-.It does not matter if they all sound different in your head.
You need to be able to use a different dialogue style for each one. That means each character says the same thing differently, depending on their personality.
I'll give some examples here. Let's try a simple one. These are all my own characters, so if you know them, try and guess before going to the next section where I'll explain each one.
1. "I don't know what you're talking about."
2. "I do not know what it is you speak of."
3. "I don't know, and you have more important things to be worrying about."
4. "I ah... yeah, I don't know."
5. "I have no idea what you're talking about!"
6. "Mmn... And what if I don't know?"
Hey look, spoilers. I'm going to give you the characters and what aspects of them are displayed right here.
The first line is Nivets. By far one of the most direct of my characters when she -does
- speak, Nivets has a casual cant, but she also seeks to get the point across without being too confusing. She knows what she's going to say, so there's no pausing.
The second line is Keshke. With an exotic background, Keshke seeks to speak in very clear enunciation, so she rarely uses contractions. Coupled with the way her words get paired together, and the words she uses, she ends up with a tone that seems somewhat unfamiliar with the language she's speaking, which is perfect for her character.
Third is Eitira, a character to which the welfare of others ends up more important than his own. Firm and businesslike, he gets right to the point and then extends that point to ask why YOU aren't thinking of better things to ask him than what he doesn't know. He's getting you back on track, but fairly gently, and that's in his character to do.
On the forth line, we have Trebillie. Always a little unsure of himself, Trebillie second-guesses himself often, which is why he ends up stammering a little in most of what he says. He knows he doesn't know, but he still has to check himself to make sure he's saying the right thing before he says it.
For the fifth line, we have the always-exuberant Rorick. Rorick rarely does anything quietly, and he can either be taken as offended by the question or excited. Either one is in his nature to be, though body language could define which one is in this particular sentence. Exclamation point for emphasis!
Sixth is definitely Remy. Suave and calm, he not only takes the question and turns it around, he almost -dares- the questioner to give him a better reason to answer it or not answer it as he sees fit. He's not going to give away if he even can or not, he just wants to see them squirm.
You see what I mean now? While I can't give you a tutorial on how to do a good solid back and forth dialogue in your RPs, this is what I -can
- give you. So if you start suspecting all your characters are starting to sound similar to one another, try an exercise like I just did. If they all have the exact same line written, you might really need to get some variation in there. Think about how they sound in your head, think about the voices you associate with them in everyday life, and try to emulate the parts of those things that can work for you AND them.Useful links for using dialogue in a more bookish environment (and just fun to read anyway)droemar.deviantart.com/journal…droemar.deviantart.com/journal…
2d. Making Things Happen
Most people don't actually think they need help with this. But oh man have I seen so, SO many times when you get all your characters in a place, you have everything set up -perfectly
-, and you know what happens? No one does anything. They just stand around and shrug or they offer some bland, sort of action(ish) idea that gets them nothing but a few moments to rope characters into pointless and roundabout dialogue.
And yeah, that's kind of boring. Sure, standing around and talking DOES have a place. Deep character development can be made there. But sometimes, you just can't stand to sit there anymore.
So you gotta MAKE SOMETHING HAPPEN.
I will say this. I have seen things done to death and beyond where a character randomly pulls out some weapon/potion/box/mental disorder and suddenly throws it at everyone. Sure, this is GREAT for Crack RPs where nothing you're doing needs to really be canon, but seriously? Nothing you do in the 'make something happen' department should force other characters OR YOUR OWN to have to act out of character just to be involved. That will only make you lose your grasp on who your character even is, and it will put other people out of touch with any story you might have going.
Not to say you can't crack it up. But everyone should be on board, and it shouldn't be required to be canon. Crack is crack, story is story, and the two should only intermix SPARSELY if at all.
So how do we make shit go down?
Easy. Remember the 'Conflict' blurb from the last section? You're gonna need that. Say that your character has some issues (not mental issues, mental has been done to death and beyond) with either a person or something that can conceivably come up in this current roleplay. Maybe he/she knows someone else where this is taking place? You can easily add another character, and have a sudden interaction play out there, where your RP partner has the opportunity to become involved and either exacerbate the situation or quell a rising outburst. But that's small scale, too. After all, you can always 'add ninjas', aka have some sudden and unexpected outside force enter at an inopportune moment.
Remember, our everyday lives are not really that exciting, and the everyday moments of our characters really aren't either. Stories are meant to follow a plot, and in a book, there are generally very few scenes that actually derail from that plot and they usually end up factoring into the main plot later on. RPs with a plot (or even just a small idea of a plot) should not be different from this. Whether you are exploring new characters, developing old ones, or simply want to have a bit of fun, you should always be seeking to move -forward
- toward a goal. When you allow yourself to sit in one place for too long, things decay like a gangrenous wound. I know this
, I've been on that boat more than I want to admit.
Don't sit there staring at one another and hoping that one of you has a plan. Make one. Carry it out. Be bold.
Thus concludes our second section.
3. The Eternal Damnation of the Blank Mind.
Ahhh, here's a subject I've been wanting to write about. As writers and Rpers and gods know what we are, I have rarely come across anything that irritates me quite so much as the 'I want to RP but I caaaaaan't' subject. There are several repeated complaints that I've seen through the years, complaints that really should not occur, and in this section, I will outline those complaints, why they really should not be made, and what you can easily do to get around them.
Because seriously, if you want to RP, take the initiative and actually write.
3a. 'I have no idea what to write.'
...Few things bother me so much as this statement. Especially when it is uttered -after a scene is already established
-. If that is the case, then this is truly an example of lazy writing, ESPECIALLY if the person saying it was involved in setting up the scene plan. I admit there ARE moments where a writer has writer's block. Those moments can be legitimate, but honestly anyone that writes in a group setting already has plenty of available people involved to use as a springboard for ideas. You should never have to simply 'bow out' of a post because you don't have any ideas.
ASK people what you can do. ASK if they had anything in mind.
Otherwise, it is unfair to the people that are writing in your place. If you just have one RP partner, this can be understood to an extent if the scene is long and involved and one has to have more material before they can post. If you are continually bowing out simply because you can't be bothered to think of what to write, though, then you really need to take a good look at yourself and address whatever problem you have that is making it impossible for you to write.
Either that, or you need to kick your own butt into gear and work your brain some before people decide that trying to write with you is too much trouble. Before you decide to utter the phrase 'I don't know what to write', stop yourself, shake your head free of distractions, and -think
Rephrase it.'I need some help in thinking of what to write here.'
RP is a team effort. Make it so.
3b. 'My character can't do anything in this scene.'
And here... I'm going to shake my head and sigh. Anyone who has RPed in a group has probably encountered this phrase, and some of your might have uttered it yourselves. The fact is, this is probably one of the most untrue statements that can -ever
- be made in writing, ever
. I have seen countless young Rpers say this when a larger scene is going on; keeping their characters in the background to watch while plenty of action is going on in the foreground. There is nothing actively keeping them from doing anything, but because they have not been -directly
- involved, they think they can't do anything.
Let me illustrate something very simple.
If you see a car crash going on, do you just stand there and watch, without doing a -single thing
That's the feeling I get from a character whose creator is saying they can't do anything in a scene. As humans, we tend to constantly be doing something, be it scratch our ass or put a hand up to our mouth in horror when we see something particularly disturbing. We DON'T tend to melt into a wall or turn into a statue unless someone comes up to say hi, and we generally -answer
- him or her when that happens as well.(Exceptions: Your character has been turned to stone and/or petrified in some way, OR IS DEAD. There can be ways to get around this though. I've RPed a rock before, and if I can successfully RP a small slab of granite, you can probably figure out how to RP a dead guy.)
Characters that simply stay silent and skip posts during a scene (and sometimes even when people give them a clear opportunity to come in) can be likened to cardboard cutouts. Few people generally want to RP with them, because they are so dependent on the action of other characters that trying
to get anything out of them becomes a task of questions and attempts repeated ad nauseam. They end up seeming shallow and impossible to draw into the action, so it's easy to drift away from them, even if they may have hidden qualities that make them interesting. After all, why spent two hours poking a player before they'll do anything when you have a player over in this corner that's already willing and able to respond and add to the action on their own?
The answer is, unless you are a VERY KIND AND UNDERSTANDING PERSON, that there is no reason to spend that long trying to get someone to react.
If you think your character can't do anything in a scene, then stop for a second before you say that. Think to yourself: 'well, if I were in this situation, would I be standing still and quiet?'... You generally would not in most scenes unless you are an accomplished professional wallflower. The fact is: there is never 'nothing' for your character to do. They can be thinking to themselves, waiting, they can be watching, they can be having an internal reaction to the scene at hand, they can drum their fingers or god forbid, they can actually jump in at an appropriate time once you have an idea of what's going down.
Basically, don't take the easy way out and throw up your hands and be silent. It won't get you anywhere but alone in a corner feeling sorry for yourself.
3c. 'We've Rped everything.'
This one. This is one of the hard ones, because if you do have a regular RP partner, scenes can be eaten up pretty quick, and eventually you will get to a point where neither of you can think of an idea of anything new that won't basically be that 'stagnating' issue I've spoken about before. When this happens, there are a few things you can actually do. I've done this before, and my personal solution is probably the simplest one out there.
Find something new to RP.
That right. Drop your current characters like hot potatoes. Throw them back into the abyss from whence they came and drag someone else out. Whoah, suddenly there's a whole new WORLD to explore. You and your RP partner(s) can not only gather ideas for your old RP in the background, but you get to play and enjoy the idea of some entirely different thing in the meantime. And when you finally do reach a point where you say 'I need a break from these guys', guess what?
Your old world is there, ready and waiting, and you -probably
- have a new perspective on how to go about things to move the story.
Don't force yourself to come up with ideas and inspiration for a story you're not really inspired for, because it'll only come out one way. Forced. Take a break, change it up, get new situations and try new things, and come back when the nostalgia calls.
3d. 'This scene doesn't follow what I like to RP.'
Honestly, this one is a toss up. In a group RP, there's generally leeway. You can probably just bow out, and there's no harm done anywhere. However, this complaint is HIGHLY DEPENDANT on the context. So I have advice for each.
Read on.1. This scene deals with issues and situations I am uncomfortable with and don't want to RP.
If this is the case, please don't think you need to be forced to RP anything. My best advice is to say if you are uncomfortable RPing a certain situation or scene. If your RP partner is understanding, they will generally find ways to work around what you need so neither of you have to be uncomfortable. If they are not, it is probably best for you to drop the RP entirely rather than go through with it. No one should -ever- have to do something they don't want to for the sake of a story. It is the choice of the others in your group (if there are more than one) to go through with a scene on their own. But you are -not- required to be involved. 2. I want this scene to turn toward something I want to RP more, but my RP partner(s) doesn't want to.
In this case, keep up a dialogue with your RP partner(s). But for god's sake try not to argue. Sometimes RP and the like seem really important, but it's really not. It's imaginary characters in an imaginary world, and we all have to make sacrifices sometimes, but we don't absolutely have to make all of them on the whims of others. If you can't all find something fun for you to RP, or can't reach an agreement, then set it up and away for a while. Don't cause unnecessary drama or act like children because someone has a problem, either. And above all? Be patient! Sometimes, and RP needs time to develop into a more exciting scene. Sometimes it never will, but you know what?
That's the price you pay, and the risk you take, when you bring more people into your writing. Accept it on all sides.3. I'm not used to RPing this and I'm lost!
Here's another big reason to keep contact with the person BEHIND the character(s) you're RPing with. There are going to be times when you encounter situations you may not be used to RPing. God knows I have encountered several of these, and rather than immediately repelling yourself from them, sometimes it's a great idea to do your research. Your RP partner(s) will be a great help, but if you want to keep on with the scene, nothing helps more than a little good old-fashioned initiative. If you don't know something, take charge and learn it, and let your partner(s) know that you need time to do your research on the subject before you respond.
RPing things you never have before (If you're okay with RPing them!) can actually be a great way to learn more about writing a vast variety of subjects, which is something any writer needs to get better at what they do. Don't shy at the extra work, embrace the chance to learn something new, and give it a chance.
4. Following Through
Ahhh, finally. Here we have the very last section of this essay/writeup/what have you. Following Through. So you have your RP? You have your world and characters and you have a plot in mind that everyone seems to be into? Great!
But there are two things you should know and think about.
4a. Setting a Goal
This can be as simple as setting a goal for how many times you'd like to RP in a week, to setting a goal for the entire RP and plot to reach. Both can be excellent tools to use, and it's -always- a good idea to know where you're going and what you should do.
In setting a goal for a plotline, it is best to establish a few key plot points in your story that you want the entire group (however many there may be) to aspire toward. You should -always
- have an ending in mind. ALWAYS. Sometimes, you should have multiple courses for an end to account for the fact that the story is NOT always going to follow predictable routes.
In setting a goal for a scene, it can be as simple as just saying 'I would like my character to not be mauled at the end of this scene'. Individual scenes will generally not be as difficult to set a goal for, not in the least, but you SHOULD have something to work for, otherwise you're just floating in an ocean with no current.
And if you're dedicated enough to set up an RP schedule as a goal for moving the plot along, please make sure that every member of your RP group agrees to this before you implement it, or you're just going to end up with drama. It can be a great tool to keep a story moving, but... Well, talking about this leads me to my last note in this entire essay: people and their lives.
4b. People and Lives
People are not tools to an end, as much as you may love and admire their writing and characters. Every single one of us has something behind the screen, be it school, a home life, a job, or pets. It's called a Life, and you should not ever expect someone to give up his or hers for your own entertainment.
If you plan to RP with someone, you both must be able to be flexible and understanding. Sometimes, an RP will go on for months, and that's perfectly fine. Sometimes it'll only go on for a week or so, and that's great too! It's just what people want out of something, and what they can afford to do. After all, you are asking someone to invest time and effort on you, even when there is risk that it probably won't pay off at all in the long run of things.
It's more important to be someone's friend than his or her writing partner.
As I said before, roleplay will come and go. These are imaginary characters being written on a screen, sometimes in universes that don't even belong to either of the people writing. Giving it more importance than that is silly. This essay has illustrated ways to improve your writing and characters in an RP to get the most out of enjoying the plot (and to improve YOURSELF if you feel you need better standards), but the truth of things is that the friendships we form and the people we meet are so much more significant than any of that.So on that note, I ask that you think about the people behind the RP for a moment. Everyone you've met, everyone you hope to talk to in the future, and let yourself for just that instant feel just how much they all mean to you.
Good luck, everyone. Happy writing, and may your plots always keep moving.