I wanted to take this moment to shine the spotlight on a little-known font of inspiration for an emerging writer or, even, seasoned writer suffering from writer’s block; something that I have utilized time and time again when I needed a little creative pick-me-up. Online roleplaying.
Now, I realize that the RP community is probably close to… say… 1% to 5%** of the world population. In other words, almost every person that will read this blog will have no clue what I am talking about or will think that the roleplaying I am talking about looks something like this.
That is often how I feel in the midst of non-roleplayers.I feel for you Mr. Trooper.
Maybe you all think roleplay is something more along these lines.
You pervert, you. No? Then, perhaps, this is what popped into your head.
Well, you are close but no. Online roleplay is none of these… and all of these. Yes, it is sort of like Live Action Roleplay whereas we (RPers) are acting. There are times when things can get a little steamy. And the rest of the world usually looks at us like we are big ass nerds. You won’t hear any objections here but you, also, will not hear any apologies. Some of the most fun, and best times, in my life happened in RP. I’ve laughed. I’ve cried. I’ve even loved. Yes, I met my husband and soulmate on a damn Harry Potter roleplay site. Some of my best friends came to me through this glowing, addictive screen. Almost-familial bonds have been made over a shared thread or two. It is a lifestyle. A cult, if you will, only we don’t drink Koolaid. Unless the koolaid is a nice, warm, frothy mug of butterbeer. Yum.
The point is, I am a roleplayer. In 2006 I started as a first-year Gryffindor at Hogwarts. I’ve been a vampire, a werewolf, a psychopath, a hero, a child, a wise elder, a loyal and dewey-eyed member, and an overwhelmed admin. I’ve built characters and lives, worlds and species, rules and forums. I returned day after day, sometimes spending 12-20 hours in my earlier years, to that special place on the internet where I could meet like-minded people and create things with them. It was a retreat. A place of solace and comfort. It was home before I found my own.
Sadly, as with most things do that do not actually contribute to society or living within it, I began to roleplay less and less. Instead of binge days where I rarely slept, I was lucky to pop onto a site and reply to an awaiting thread once a week. Maybe it was because I no longer needed to escape some harsh realities of my world. Maybe, as I grew happier and more satisfied with my real life, the less I needed to depend on RP life. I doubt I will ever know. But I will never fully leave the RP life, either. That I can promise you. There is still too much thrill in it. It helps to stir my muse when it falls into heavy slumber. And that is the whole point of this, particular, blog post.
If you are a writer, or dream of becoming one, and you haven’t stumbled upon roleplay yet, I URGE you to give it a try. Every tool has its use and this is a great one to have in your back pocket. It’s great for shining up your writing techniques, building characters and back stories, and even finding encouragement from fellow roleplayers. When I first started out, my writing was deplorable. No, I kid you not. My grand entrance looked along the lines of this:
*Gwen walked into Potions class* Oh, no… they already started. *She finds an empty seat and hides in her book before looking at the girl next to her* Hi.
Yup. A real Edgar Allen Poe, there, wasn’t I? Of course, the people posting on the same thread with me were creating amazing interactions with one another and I was sitting in a chair. As with everything else in this world, practice makes perfect and after two years on that particular forum my writing style blossomed, my characters became richer and less “Mary Sue” (definition of a Mary Sue can be found here), and I was creating plots and twists that kept even myself on edge waiting to see what happened next. If I
convert interest even one person, then I will feel I’ve done my job.
To explain the basic ins and outs of RP, I will use one of my favorite sites (and one of the best and longest-running you will ever find for its genre) to demonstrate. Hogwarts School Online.
If you were to click on the above link, it would take you to the beautifully created site run by some very talented writers and graphic designers. It has been running for 6 years now (in the online roleplay world that is ANCIENT… most sites are lucky to make it to the 1 year mark. Only the best endure) and has nearly fifteen THOUSAND members (characters). Let’s take a moment to appreciate the magnitude of that. Fifteen thousand characters interact with one another for over half a decade, building stories together. Building a community. Excuse me while I wipe away a nerd-tear.
Ahem. Right. As you can see, if you are still looking at the Hogwarts forum and haven’t been sucked into Johnny’s intense gaze, it doesn’t look like much right out of the gate. There are, like, two categories and then a bunch of statistics and the sidebar content.This isn’t the full site. You can see the site in its entire gloriousness after registering a character (really just coming up with a name and registering with it to get in. The real in-depth stuff doesn’t happen til after registration) and signing in. However, what is shown is enough to explain the necessities in this post.
1. The Site. The site serves as the world in the genre you choose. So, say for Hogwarts Online, it consists of the Wizarding world. London, Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade, and various other areas in the book series (even some Muggle regions) are all contained in this board. Wow… that is a lot of stuff to pack into one site. Well, yes and no. Once you take a leisurely stroll through a forum you will start to understand its layout. Just think of the site itself as the parts of the world that matter. The world in which you are writing depends entirely on your tastes. Harry Potter is just one example. There are sites for The Walking Dead, True Blood, Firefly, DC Comics, and even original plot rp sites thought up entirely by the admins. To find a site simply go to google and type in _______ roleplay site (be as specific or vague as you want when filling in the blank. Something will pop up) and go through the links til you find one to your taste. Tip: Invisionfree and Jcink in the url? Those are the easiest sites to navigate in my opinion.
2. OOC and IC. Forums are typically 90% IC (In-Character) and 10% OOC (Out of Character). Where the meat of the site are the places in which you write your story as your character, there is still that silly, but necessary, 10% where you are writing as yourself… the “writer” or RPer. On the part of Hogwarts Online we can see prior to registering, the OOC would be the “Hogwarts Cupboard”. This is the part of the forum where you will find the site-wide history and plot, the rules of the forum, important information for members, and where you would create your personal character and find applications of other characters you will be interacting with. The IC part of the site would be “Hogwarts Castle”. It is much more in-depth than it appears. As I said you have to register to see it all but they do offer a small peek for the curious guest. This, and other categories like it, would be where you interact with other members and take turns posting to one another as your character.
3.Applications. Sounds a lot more intimidating than it is, really. For every character that is created on the site, an application must be filled out. It serves multiple purposes. Firstly, it helps you flesh out your character so you, the writer, understand them and how they would react to certain situations better. Secondly, it allows other members to see what sort of character you are playing so that they may decide if they are interesting in more in-depth plotting between the two of you. Filling one out is usually a daunting task but once you have that great character built… it will feel all worth it. Fun fact… my main character of my book started out in one of these tedious applications. I couldn’t have made her without it.
The content of the applications can vary from stupidly simple to extravagantly complex but there are parts of it that are typically found on every application on any given site.
- Name, gender, age, species (varies per genre), occupation, orientation. These are basically census questions.
- Appearance. What does your character look like? What makes them unique, physically? How do they dress?
- Personality. What makes them tick? What kind of person are they? How would the react to things?
- History. Who is their family? Where did they grow up? HOW did they grow up? Was it a good/bad childhood? Did they get into trouble? What is their goal in life?
Seems like these questions are exactly the kind of questions an author would ask themselves when creating a character for a book, doesn’t it? Hmmmm.
4. Play-by (aka face claim). The play-by is a physical representation of what your character looks like. The play by is RARELY an everyday person (though there are sites out there that allow it), can SOMETIMES be represented by well-known cartoons or anime characters, and is USUALLY represented by celebrities. It allows the people you are RPing a scene with to get a quick mental sketch of what your character looks like. More in-depth details come from you and your writing but 50% of the mental image is from your signature. A signature is a graphic made with images of your chosen celeb/cartoon/anime face. Lots of people go on to learn photoshop so they can create beautiful signatures and even tweak some to, more accurately, fit their specific character. I shall give you a couple of examples of my own past signatures.
On the very first site I RPed on, I used Kate Winslet for my Gryffindor with Divination skills. She was a spunky, green-eyed, red head and this was one of my many signatures.
I also had played on a DC comic Roleplay site as Poison Ivy. God knows I didn’t want to use campy Uma Thurman version for it, so I chose Scarlett Johansen as my Play-by. Since she didn’t have red hair (this was PRE-Avengers) I used a picture of her and used photoshop to make a Poison Ivy signature.
5. Posting. And, finally, the fun part. (Though I do find the other stuff fun, too) After the character is created and the plots are plotted, it is time to jump into writing. You would go to one of the topics listed in the IC categories, decide where you want your character to physically be (topics are usually places like cities, countries, buildings, business, so on) and if it is an open-rp thread where anyone can jump in at any given time, then you simply hit “new reply” and write in the field provided. If it is tagged-rp, then you start a new topic (rather than a new reply) and post that way. This is where you can let your imagination run wild as long as you stay within the site rules. Make your grand entrance, start some mischief, be a damsel in distress– or dude if you prefer. The point of the post is to be descriptive so your future partner knows what is going on around your character when they enter. What smells, sights, sounds are happening? What is the whether like? Is your character screaming or acting suspicious. You write enough to interest and engage your potential rp partner, but leave it open ended so that they can jump in. Every response starts with hitting the “new reply” button/link and you just let the story flow from there. Possibilities are endless. Who knows? You may have so much fun that you don’t realize its 3 A.M. and your alarm will be going of in two hours (been there… done that).
I have officially broken the Word Counter on this blog page, so I should probably wrap it up. I do get carried away when talking about things I love. For those of you that have followed along all the way to the end THANK YOU. Treat yourself to a cookie and go look up a vampire-biker-star crossed lovers-dystopian roleplay site. If you are anything like me, you’ll be hooked.
** I pulled the “1% to 5%” completely out of my ass, there is no scientific statistics that I have found to conclude this exact number. When you are an RPer it seems like the entire world RPs with you… until you get the long blank stares from people in real life. Then you realize you are a sad sad minority who cuddles with their laptop.