LESSON Effective Characterization:

Elle Joyner

Original poster
Posting Speed
  1. Multiple posts per day
Online Availability
8:00 AM - 4:00 PM
Writing Levels
  1. Prestige
Preferred Character Gender
  1. Male
  2. Primarily Prefer Female
Political intrigue, fantasy, futuristic, sci fi lite, superheroes, historical fiction, alternate universes. Smittings of romance, but only as side plot.
Tips that will make RP more fun for EVERYONE: How to not be ‘That Guy’

I don’t like tutorials about writing. I’ll start off by saying as much. I find several , if not the majority of them to read condescendingly, to come across as definitive and frankly, they don’t offer a lot of pertinent information that ACTUALLY makes you a better writer… I’m not rebel, but in my mind one of the few places the rules are MADE to be broken is in writing, and the more rules you follow, the more it stunts the reading material and gives it a cold, clinical feel.

I realize this idea sounds ridiculous, considering I’m about to give you a list of ideas to help improve writing that are entirely subjective opinion - but ultimately none of these ideas are going to make or break you as a writer. These are just pieces of information that I, personally have picked up along the way in my many, many, many (I’m old, okay?) years of writing. I’m not an English major (you’ve probably already guessed that, by how many misplaced commas I’ve used, so far), I’m not a published author (editors are expensive, man…) but I have been RPing or writing for roughly 18 years of my life, and in that time I have picked up a thing or two that may press YOU to become a better, more effective writing… particularly where RP is concerned.

So with that disclaimer out of the way - here is a … non-tutorial tutorial… :)

Step one, and probably the most important step you will ever take on the road to becoming a better RPer.

Join nothing, unless you are absolutely, 100% positive you are going to be able to dedicate the time, energy and effort into it that you would want someone else to give you. Why is this so crucial? Because frankly, no one wants to RP with the guy who’d rather be playing World of Warcraft. If you look at an RP and cannot say with all certainty that the idea grabs you, turn around, walk away, throw up your hands and cover your eyes if you have to. Don’t let your friends sway you, don’t let guilt pressure you… In the end, you will be better off, but so will the RP.

A lack of dedication is RP-murder and there are serial killers out there, just hopping from genre to genre, post to post, slaying as they go with no idea that they’re doing it. Use clarity. Ask yourself the questions…

  • Do I have time for this.
  • Am I attracted to the actual concept or just to the players/GM/world/bbcode/whatever else.
  • Can I come up with a viable character for this setting.
  • What is my motivation for joining this.

If you can ask these questions and have a favorable answer to all of them, go to town. But if you can’t? Maybe you need to consider that it’s not the RP for you… This is okay. This is good. There are plenty of RPs out there and you won’t ruin this one by saying ‘no’...

With that out of the way… Step Two.

You’ve joined. Now what?

Well, now chère, it’s your responsibility to stick with it… and to make the most of your part in the RP. How do you do this? By being an effective participant. This is when timing and consistency come into play. You opted in, and now you have a responsibility to the players and the GM to follow through.

Be consistent. If the GM asks for weekly posts - post weekly. Aim to be prompt. Aim to make your posts inviting for others to read. If you’re struggling, talk to the GM… as them for suggestions/advice. Most GMs will not be angry or annoyed by this (unless you do it EVERY single post, because let’s be real… we shouldn’t need our hands held) - in fact, most will be grateful that you aren’t holding things up for lack of inspiration.

What you should NOT do is sit on a post for weeks on end, waiting until inspiration hits. Because let me tell you - nothing is worse than waiting for someone and finding by the time they actually get their act together you YOURSELF have lost the drive for the RP… And nothing is more insulting or frustrating to a GM or a player than to see someone bouncing around the site or discord, throwing their dedication everywhere else when you and they both know it’s their turn to write. Get behind the eight ball - no excuses.

Well, no… there are excuses - But in the event that you absolutely cannot post (vacation, slammed by work/school, family obligations, sick, computer trouble, whatever…) it is STILL your responsibility to let the GM and everyone else know that it’s okay to go on without you. Do not anticipate mind reading. We’re RPers… not psychics. When an RP stagnates, it dies. Be respectful. Be courteous. No one will be mad at you for real life happening, but they are fairly justified in being irritated if you don’t let anyone know...

Now then… with those two bits of business out of the way. Let’s delve a little deeper into how you can make the most out of every character, every post… every RP.

Again - these are not rules. They shouldn’t be looked at that way. They aren’t even (by Pirate standard) guidelines. These are suggestions, opinions… just quirky little ideas that have helped me and might help you. Some may work, some might now. Use as many or as few as you’d like… just be aware in the end what REALLY makes a good writer is someone who believes in what they’re writing and has the confidence to put forth their best effort, every time they post.

Vocal Awareness: Yes. This sounds ridiculous. No. This isn’t where we break into scales on the piano. What this is, is a way to convey to your readers the spirit of your character, through their inner voice. Why is this important? Because nothing is more disjointed or jarring than an inconsistent character. If you wrote a CS for the RP that includes a personality section, then UTILIZE THIS. CSs are not just things you begrudgingly fill out, in order to prove you’re a real person so the GM can place you in the RP. A CS is intended to be a guide for -you- to follow, so you can remember what the heck your character was meant to be.

So if, say, you write a character’s personality… and you include that they are… mothering or nurturing. This is something that should show soundly in your posts, by how you interact with other characters. Personalities aren’t set in stone, no. They fluctuate, and sometimes they can develop into something deeper, or devolve into something lesser - but a character with an undefined personality, or a personality that jumps all over the map, well… unless they’re a character diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, it’s just not good writing. For instance, with our previous example… typically someone of a more maternal nature isn’t going to be inappropriately flirtatious or carnal. They won’t ignore the hardships of other characters, or neglect other’s needs above their own. Does this mean you have to play them like Carol Brady? No. Not at all. But you DO need to be aware of any nuances in your action and dialogue that seem jarring or disjointed from the personality you created.

But it goes deeper than that, folks. It’s not just personality of your character that makes their voice clear. It’s the WAY you are writing them. The very words that you use should ultimately reflect the character - and this, in a HUGE way, is what separates roleplaying… from every day novel writing.

Your writing should change with every character you write, every genre you write in. This is what makes RPing interesting and makes people want to read what you post.

For instance… Say you’re writing a tough as nails tomboy - one of those punch-happy, looking before the leap types, not exceptionally bright… but determined. The kind that just jump into the action without concern. Adrenaline pumping 24/7.

Now picture that character… surrounded by flowery prose and descriptive terms that don’t match the scene… huge or uncommon vocabulary words that require your reader to have a thesaurus handy to understand…

Or better yet… here’s a good idea/bad idea example to follow:

EFFECTIVE VOICE staying in character: Josie eyed the man seated across from her with a look of contempt. He gave a sort of drawn visual, not thin-drawn, but like a cartoon character - the kind you’d see twisting their mustache as they tied a girl to the train tracks. She’d hit a lot of people in her time… still had the bruising on her knuckles from the last guy she taught a lesson to… but never before had she wanted to punch a complete stranger so badly. Her knuckles twitched into involuntary fists and she squeezed them so hard the skin stretched white as, with her teeth grit, she spoke in a voice radiating irritation, “What did you do with the boy??”

INEFFECTIVE VOICE turmoil of ideas: Josephine’s gaze drifted with bellicose discretion towards the man seated across the way. The man was towering and dusky, a villainous sort, his sable clothing almost a reflection of the depraved soul beneath them. She felt burdened, deep within, by the need to act… a entrenched desire swelling inside of her to bludgeon the man black and blue. Speaking, her voice aquiver with indignation, she tightened her fists into knots, “...What have you done with the boy?”​

Now. Here’s the thing. Neither of these are necessarily poorly written. Neither of them has any glaring errors. Both get the message across… But only one of these examples shows the CHARACTER the way that they’re meant to be shown. One of these reflects the voice of the character in such a way that you can connect with their personae, visualize them as a real live human being and hold onto the visual throughout the scene. THIS, my friends, is what I mean by your character’s voice. Find it, sink into it… practice it (no, really… practice it… outloud, even.) - It makes a world of difference and it will make people WANT to read your posts.

The Dreaded Anachronism

Character vocals are especially crucial when it comes to different genres. How many times have you read a post in, say… a fantasy/period genre… and someone uses a word or phrase that doesn’t reflect the time period? Anachronisms, kids, can instantaneously remove you from the setting and pull you right out of the narrative faster than you realize.

Picture the setting - a beautiful castle on the lake. Your character, a romanticized knight, swarthy and noble…

….standing before his lady-fair, her hand cupped tenderly in his mighty grasp. Eyes glistening with tears he would never dare shed, he knelt and bringing her hand to his lips, he pressed a soft, tentative kiss to her pale knuckles.

“My dearest… I have so longed, most desperately, for this moment… yet I find myself at a loss for words practiced and familiar. I thought it a dream to love someone so vehemently, yet here I stand and I am without reason. All I can think, all I can pray is that you would do me the privilege… nay, the honor… of becoming my bride.”

A solitary tear trickled down his lady’s skin as he turned his eyes up to meet her and in the glowing light of that brilliant sunrise, she reflected the beauty of a popstar, beneath the spotlights on a---SCREEEEE….​

Woah. What?

This, folks… is an anachronism. And it’s painful. It’s painful, because where prose can work if it’s handled the right way, what doesn’t work is removing your reader from the emotion by throwing in something that alters the focus of the vision you’re creating. Your reader has gone from visualizing a knight and his lady before a towering castle… to Britney Spears, gyrating beneath the hot lights on a stage… and these two images are not friends. They don’t belong together. They don’t belong in the same story together (unless you’re working with time travel, in which case… God speed). I cannot press the importance of this enough… stay in character, stay in the period… in the ENTIRETY of the scene. If you want a descriptive narrative that flows, it is imperative that you remember this...

Don’t Be So... Tense:

This is a big one… and it’s also a controversial one, so strap in, folks. Tense. Point of View. Arguably one of the most difficult things to deal with, within an RP - yet so simple it really shouldn’t be.

How many times have you been in the throes of an RP, thoroughly enjoying post after post… and someone comes in with, “I stand before the room and suddenly, I’m nervous…”

Brakes. Screeching. Ruhroh.

First Person Perspective.

It’s a doozy.

Why, you might ask? Maybe you’ve read a book recently that followed first-person perspective and you really enjoyed the narrative. Maybe it’s just the way you’re used to writing. Is this wrong? No. I love first person - in fact, the vast majority of my writing OUTSIDE of RPING is first person. Why then do I stand against it in a roleplay?

Because roleplaying isn’t about you.

It’s a group effort… a constant collaborative effort - whether it’s a 1x1 or group RP and there is what…? No ‘I’ in team, right?

In my opinion - there is nothing, absolutely nothing, on God’s green earth, that throws me off worse than someone coming into an RP with a first-person narrative. Instantly, you’ve taken the flow and you’ve internalized it. You’ve made it strictly about your character, and this is problematic, because (sorry to say), it’s just… not. Suddenly, everyone involved in the RP is reading this post that makes your character appear centralized… that makes your character appear as the main character, which in roleplaying, really just doesn’t work. My advice? Follow the gm. Their post will give q pretty accurate picture of what's expected. This is largely about respecting fellow players… sometimes, you just have to be the bigger person.

Tense is also extremely important. If everyone is writing in past tense, you probably should be, too. It's not necessarily as noticeably distracting as perspective, but think about reading a novel. One bit of it is written in past tense - then suddenly you turn the page and it’s a chapter written in present tense. Might throw you off a bit, yes? In roleplaying, it’s nice to remember that because it’s largely about -reaction- it’s always best to keep things to one POV. Same concept then applies - follow the GM. Simple, right?

Now - there ARE exceptions to the rule, of course… Introduction posts, for instance, can be made in first person if they’re done as a sort of precursor to the story… a set-up, if you would for what’s to come. But I hesitate to do this often, and the transition should feel natural from First, back to Third. Consequently, dream sequences are also a fun place to play with different tenses/POVs, but again, it must be done seamlessly, or it will feel confusing and jarring to read. Don’t get too fancy… Rule of thumb is to remember that it’s not your show - you’re just one of the many actors on stage and everyone needs to shine.

Act Your Age: Whether your character is ten, twenty, thirty or a hundred, one thing that is crucial to maintaining the right voice is HOW THEY ACT. This comes from observation, this comes from understanding… and that is why it is utterly important to KNOW what you’re writing. What do I mean by this? If you don’t feel comfortable understanding how the mind of a teenager works… you probably shouldn’t be playing a teenager. If you can’t comprehend the elderly… it’s best to stay away from that age group.

There is little more that confuses the narrative as easily as someone playing a character who just… doesn’t act within the confines of their age restrictions. Does that mean you can’t play an extremely mature teen? No… Not at all. Does that mean your thirty-year old can’t be a little childish? Not remotely. But these are also not -norms- and shouldn’t be portrayed that way. If your thirty year old feels like they’re more accurately fifteen, that’s an issue. There are certain things which define a character’s age. Namely, their emotional capacity, how they handle situations, how they speak and their mannerisms. When these things don’t flow, or feel natural, you can wind up with what looks to be an unfocused narrative. Study the people around you… how they act/react to things and you’ll quickly learn what’s realistic and what isn’t. Be a people watcher! Write things down. Think on it. Practice it. It will undoubtedly improve your work, and make RP that much easier for you and your partners.

Be the Nerd You Were Born to Be:

Here, lovelies, is a fun little exercise that will separate the RPers from the GREAT RPers. How do you know if something tastes great when you cook? You TASTE it. How do you know that you’ll like a particular song? You listen to it. How do you know a string of dialogue works? You SAY IT OUTLOUD. People speak very differently from the way they write… and forgetting this is ultimately what accounts for some of the major issues when it comes to finding your character’s natural flow.

Focus on your genre, on the setting, on the time period, but most importantly, on your character’s personality. As we witnessed earlier in the example I gave, certain words/phrasing/terms just don’t WORK for a particular personality type. To be most aware of this and avoid the issue… the best thing I find is to actually say the dialogue outloud. Does it have a fluidity to it that speech ought to? Does it sound too formal? Too clinical? Too corny? Are you utilizing things people use in speech like contractions or abbreviated sentiments? Don’t be afraid to add “ums and uhs” … these happen naturally in speech. Don’t be afraid to truncate “g” endings if your character has any sort of accent or attitude…

This also works as far as actions are concerned. Not sure what your character is doing with their hands? How they’re sitting? Facial expression? Act it out. It might sound ridiculous, but in the end you’ll get a scene that FEELS real, because to you, it WAS real. I don’t, however, recommend this too often if you’re typing at work/school or really in front of people at all - because crazy always looks crazy.

The Art of READING:

What?? You mean… you mean roleplaying isn’t just… writing?? Yes kids, it’s true. More than fifty-percent of roleplaying… is READING. If you aren’t willing to read, you should probably maybe consider another hobby. Frankly, I’m disturbed by the amount of people who confess to ‘skimming’ posts, or just skipping them altogether. Do I get the ‘draw’ of this idea? Yes. Absolutely. There’s always that one person who just… doesn’t seem to fit and it’s very tempting to ignore them completely. But guess what? That’s not how RPing works.

I cannot emphasize this enough. READ EVERYTHING.

Even if it feels torturous. Do it. Why? Because let’s be real… you want people to read what YOU wrote, don’t you? So don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t expect what you aren’t willing to deliver. Maybe you’ll find it tiresome initially, but eventually, you get used to the idea. Don’t have the time? Well… sorry, then group RPing probably isn’t for you. It’s all part of that dedication we talked about earlier - that respect and courtesy. And you never know when you’ll skip that one post that had something important in it and make yourself look foolish, because you missed a crucial detail.

Which leads right into the next point…

How to REACT effectively. Picture the scene you’re in, before you write. What happened before your post? What occurred. How, if this were real, would you react? What would you notice? What would you pick up on? Utilize your senses - fill the post with those. Sight, sound, smell… These are important descriptions, which make the scene feel open for the reader…

But in roleplaying what is even MORE important is picking up on what OTHER people did or reacted to. This is where chemistry between characters occurs. This is where a situation fills with life. Someone says or does something? REACT to it. Does that mean you have to pick up on everything, no? But if your entire post is strictly about your character, it’s going to read flat… every time. Don’t be afraid to utilize your fellow players. That’s why they’re there. Discuss the scene if you want - discuss possible collaborative ideas. ASK QUESTIONS. This is what makes roleplaying exciting. This is what gives it that sense of reality. I understand that the biggest reason people avoid this is fear of bunnying or Godmoding. STOP BEING AFRAID. As long as you aren’t forcing someone’s character into a situation or reacting FOR THEM, everything else is fair game.

When you start using the environment around you (including the characters), you’ll find your posts improving to an insane degree… and the best part? It’s easy. Really easy. No need to add flowery filler that no one wants to read. No need to fluff up dialogue or consult your thesaurus. Raw, real, gritty posts, full of raw, real, gritty reactions. That’s where it’s at, darling.

And that brings me to my final concept…

Don’t Be The Lone Wolf:

No what isn’t interesting to read? The guy who no one wants to talk to. Don’t be that guy. It’s not edgy. Or cool. Or fun. It’s lame. It’s always been lame, but for some reason, it’s still super popular. Run from the idea. Why? Because in a group RP, you need to be able to function with other members in the roleplay. In a group RP, you literally need interaction in order to make the roleplay function. ICly OR OOCly, this is crucial. Interact with characters, but also with players. Talk things out, plot, plan… Always consult the GM first - ask questions, figure out details - but don’t just sit around and wait for someone to spoon feed you the next scene you need to write.

Be a part of the program… and you will not regret it - people will WANT to read your posts, and that is the best feeling you’ll experience as a writer.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is about it… Until I think of more *lol*

Hope you enjoyed, hope it helps! Feel free to suggest some other points, but just remember - there are no necessary ‘rights and wrongs’ … just perspectives <3


Overall, I really liked this not-guide. Because I'm spellbound by the delusion my opinions matter, I can't just go without commenting. Before that I do want to say that while it could use a bit more structure and there's some things i feel differently about, it contains lots of good info and is mostly entertaining to read.

Join nothing, unless you are absolutely, 100% positive you are going to be able to dedicate the time, energy and effort into it that you would want someone else to give you. Why is this so crucial? Because frankly, no one wants to RP with the guy who’d rather be playing World of Warcraft.
I find this very difficult to preach, as it is about well, difficult to get everyone to adhere to. People feel and think very in the moment, causing them to base their actions off of the present without considering the future. At the same time, the excitement this facilitates is usually a welcome kick to start up a new arc or roleplay, much more than long-term thinking ever could. "I want to be here now!" is far stronger than "I want to be here in 6 months!"

Dedication and loyalty tends to be forged over time and is a progress, versus a 24 month up front contract for your new apartment. People should consider whether they want to raid, party or RP on their Saturday night, yes, but it is practically madness to actually expect this from anyone. It's like asking someone to buy a car without a test ride. If people decide they don't want to be in your roleplay based on information they learn past the sign up (maybe a plot twist, maybe a player conflict, maybe something happens in their personal life, whatever) it's up to the GM and other players to keep it alive.

I understand the frustration. ogod i do. As much as we'd like it to be different (and especially for people to communicate their fucking shit) it's just how people work and it tends to be difficult for them to change their basic way and process of thinking even if you do pay them for it. In my experience, it's a better use of time and energy to focus on how to deal with this happening than trying to prevent it to happen. This is a player-focused article and not a GM-one, so I understand that's not exactly a subject fit for the context, but yeah... You know.

This just gave me a bit of a bad taste for an otherwise good article. I promise I actually like it.

typically someone of a more maternal nature isn’t going to be inappropriately flirtatious or carnal. They won’t ignore the hardships of other characters, or neglect other’s needs above their own.
What attitude people adopt depends on relations, attitudes of others and environment. Take a woman in a zombie apocalypse taking care of a bunch of kindergarteners. Those kids are mostly going to be selfish and needy and feeling really shit about the loss of their toys and parents, so a lot of love she puts in likely won't be reciprocated. So when she comes across the tall dark and handsome six-pack John, she might use some of her 'less motherly qualities' to get the appreciation she's not getting otherwise. Possibly at the detriment of little Sarah whose booboo can wait while teach is feeling 'appreciated.'

Vice versa, same kindergarten teach, same John, both get stuck in a bind where a viable option is to sacrifice either him or her to ensure the other's survival from the zombies. John has promised he'd take care of the kids if anything were to happen to our teach, and while he is the man with the guns, teach still chooses to sacrifice him over herself because her emotional attachment to the kids and sense of maternal and therefore personal responsibility. Even if John has a kid of his own he is trying to find in the wasteland.

A personality section is basically your character's centre. The trunk of the tree, if you will. However, situations often ask we branch into different directions that may deviate from that base.

This also works as far as actions are concerned. Not sure what your character is doing with their hands? How they’re sitting? Facial expression? Act it out. It might sound ridiculous, but in the end you’ll get a scene that FEELS real, because to you, it WAS real. I don’t, however, recommend this too often if you’re typing at work/school or really in front of people at all - because crazy always looks crazy.
thankgod im not the only one who does this

Standing in front of a mirror and acting out body language, especially for characters with one a little more out there, is a fantastic tool. Drawing quick figures outlining the important motions helps your focus as well. Admittedly I haven't used this much in roleplay (shame, shame, I know) but it's been absolutely golden elsewhere.

I also appreciate the section about character voice. It's such a valuable immersive tool. Even if I strongly empathise with Josephine's entrenched, swelling desire to bludgeon the towering and dusky man black and blue. It's something I want to employ more in my writing.

Anyhow. Like I said in the beginning, there's a lot of good info here. So, cheers for writing.
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"SIDE NOTE: One thing to forever avoid? Writing out entire accents, phonetically. No One. Wants. To. Read. Entire. Strings. Of. Dialogue. In. Broken. Slang. Cockney. Or. Foreign. Words. They. Don’t. Know.

No one. "

Speak for yourself. I love reading that shit xD.

A very nice "non-tutorial" though.
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Posting Speed
  1. 1-3 posts per week
  2. One post per week
  3. Slow As Molasses
Writing Levels
  1. Adept
  2. Advanced
  3. Prestige
  4. Douche
Preferred Character Gender
  1. No Preferences
"SIDE NOTE: One thing to forever avoid? Writing out entire accents, phonetically. No One. Wants. To. Read. Entire. Strings. Of. Dialogue. In. Broken. Slang. Cockney. Or. Foreign. Words. They. Don’t. Know.

No one. "

Speak for yourself. I love reading that shit xD.

A very nice "non-tutorial" though.
I sort of agree with you @Hellis, but that's only because I remember a few instances when it was done right and it really added a lot to the character, in my opinion at least. At the same time, I would say that an accent is hard to pull off. Ergo, when it gets done, it tends to get done badly and perhaps that's why @Elle Joyner isn't a fan :P

I for one can't pull it off, that much I know xD
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