Long before I started writing novels or world-building alternate universes, I was drawn into the world of RPG. More specifically: forum-based, post-by-post role-play. For those who aren’t sure what this is, here’s how it works:
Post-by-post role-play is written on a forum alongside dozens—sometimes hundreds—of other writers (handlers). The forum embraces a core theme or universe where the community story takes place. Each thread is a story, and it’s told one post at a time from a character’s perspective.
Signs of a Strong RPG Community:
- Active Engagement. Some communities host anywhere from a dozen writers to thousands of accounts. However, the number of users doesn’t matter—the activity does. Peek at the latest posts and the dates they went live. How often are users writing? When was the most recent post put up? Is only one person writing dozens of posts, or are there several characters actively engaging on the site?
- One theme to rule them all. I’ve found that if the site has one core universe (i.e. Lord of the Rings) vs. several hosted universes, there’s a lot more activity within the community.
- Many characters make light work. If any RPG site says only one character allowed per writer, turn back. Characters are hard work. Sometimes they take off right away and become a community favorite, though usually it takes a lot of time and diligence. And they don’t always succeed. Writers need the chance to try their hand at different personalities, quirks, sexes and genders, and discover how unique each one can be. Strong RPG communities always encourage multiple characters.
When I first began writing RPG, it was an escape, much like a story is to a reader. A chance to set aside real life and explore an alternate world through the eyes of another. Yet, I also had a mission with RPG: learn how to create character depth.
Somewhere in the dark recesses of my old computer files, there’s the beginning of a fiction story I wrote about an alternate earth history. It’s pure dumpster slog, but the worst part is every character is the same apart from a few visual details. I had zero idea how to dig into the nitty gritty, strengths and weaknesses, or explore action vs. reaction. To learn this skill, I found a community that overwhelmed the hell out of me. It was HUGE! Tons of guidelines, tons of writers, and so many forums I wasn’t sure where to start.
Not wanting to appear like the newbie idiot, I spent nearly a week reading around the site, what people were writing, rules, procedures, almost to the point where I could recite them blindfolded. Then I took the plunge… making a mistake right off the bat. Nothing major and easily fixed, but I still felt as small as a bug. Since I had no idea how to create a character, I put together a female inside the life I wanted to have for myself. Mistake #2 – trying to be the character. However, my small mistakes become the biggest learning assets. I kept at it, getting my character involved in plots and classes, and super proud of my 1-3 sentence posts.
What I didn’t realize until I made the leap from RPGs to novels, is how much I’d grow as a writer. Those cookie cutter characters I first created transmogrified into beautiful entities with generations of family history, strengths and weaknesses, quirks, reactive buttons, and a depth of richness through the steps of their lives.
RPG writing taught me a plethora of writing skills.
- I wrote every day. When you’re involved with RPG, you’re accountable to other writers. Whether I was just answering spammy PMs, or banging out a dozen posts, I logged in every day and wrote something.
- Operating within limits. Everyone wants their character to be the hero, and in novel writing we get a chance to fulfill this destiny. But what about all the other characters? Writing against others helps you to learn how to operate not only inside the parameters of a fictional universe, but within the limits of a character’s physical and emotional limitations. The same applies in novels, or you’d have 100 Harry Potters no one else of note.
- Learning close POV. As authors, we get the chance to control all the characters’ actions. In RPG… you don’t. Every post is done through the eyes of that character, and they must act & react without telling what the other character is going to do. This opens up the opportunity to focus on what your character is seeing, smelling, tasting, and how they will act/react to others.
- Polish & hone your grammar. The more you write, the more mistakes you learn to catch. I’ve watched young writers with barely a grasp of the English language grow from broken sentences with no punctuation to beautifully-crafted posts. Because they watched other writers, kept writing, and soon things like proper punctuation and capitalization became second nature.
- Meet other writers. This might seem like a no-brainer, but it’s true. Most RPG writers aren’t novelists, but they’re still writers. From medical and technical papers, to media content to university theses and poetry… these folks are peers who can challenge you as a writer, and torment the heck out of your characters. 😉
So, if you’re searching for new and innovative ways to hone your writing skills, or a playful way to escape from life, I highly recommend post-by-post role-play. Search out different communities, their themes, and see if any are a good fit for you and your writing style. You may be surprised at who you meet and how exponentially your writing skills grow.
Original article posted on Hàlön Chronicles.
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