LESSON Five Questions for the Prospective Storyteller: A Dissection of Roleplay Creation

Discussion in 'REFINING WRITING' started by Astaroth, Nov 14, 2011.

  1. So you want to run your own roleplay. However, you have difficulty coming up with an idea, or your interest checks don’t turn up the kind of response you want. This may be because you are approaching the process without fully understanding it. There are some basic questions that may help you gain some perspective into the creative process.

    1. Why do you want to start a roleplay?

    This is the most important question that you could possibly ask yourself, as a writer or as a roleplayer. What is it that is spurring you to write? What are you looking for? What do you hope to get out of it? Generally speaking, we write for three main reasons:

    • We write for appreciation. This is usually the core of a writer’s first motivation to share their work... thus, posting our writing online, or submitting for publication. We want to be recognized, seen for who we are; we want to be affirmed through our creative talent. Newer writers are so often overly sensitive for exactly this reason, occasionally to the point of being enraged at even mild criticism. This is because our earliest works are still closely attached to ourselves. A perceived insult to our writing is a perceived insult to us, to our very essence. Ultimately, we are our own most important reader, but there is an undeniable need for an outside audience.
    • We write for imitation. Every writer has an influence, whether it be a certain story or a certain author, or even a certain character- real or fictional. This is reflected in the way that so many writers begin by playing with someone else’s world or ideas. We roleplay as our favorite anime character, or we write fanfiction set in the universe of a beloved book series. We project our own personalities and opinions and viewpoints onto these skeletons, and make them our own, because we admire them. They give us a baseboard from which to spring into our imaginations. Some writers are content never to leave this comfort zone, because this is their main drive.
    • We write for understanding. Life presents us with many questions and few answers. Writing is powerful, because it allows both author and reader to examine these questions in written form, to arrange the universe in a way that brings sense and clarity and comfort. What happens after you die? What is it like to be in love? Why do we do the things we do? And most of all, Why are we here?

    These motivations are not mutually exclusive, and often more complex. But determining your main reason for wishing to craft a storyline can, if nothing else, tell you what path to follow. Should you strive to showcase your talent as much as possible? Should you base your roleplay, in part or in entirety, upon an existing framework? Or should you first ask yourself what questions are most important for you to explore, if not answer?

    2. What are the themes of your roleplay?

    A good story, or roleplay, has central themes that are brought out by the plot and reflected in the characters. Identifying these themes can help you to clarify where you want your storyline to go. Not understanding the themes that you have written into your story can create a disconnect between writer and plot, and therefore, a disconnect with the audience. Themes are not always consciously applied, and can be identified as either concrete, or abstract. Take a close look at your plot summary.

    Examples of concrete themes: “death”, “horror”, “the afterlife”, “adventure”, “magic”, “rebellion”, “nationalism”, “war”, “politics”, “espionage”, “travel”, and of course, “heroism”.

    Examples of abstract themes: “self-identity”, “acceptance”, “strength of will”, “human nature”, “absolution”, “birthright”, “us vs. them”, “loss of purpose”, “a day in the life”, “second chances”, “companionship”, and almost always, “transcendence”.

    Try to come up with as many ideas or concepts from what you have as possible. You might surprise yourself at what is there.

    3. What do you actually know about the content of your roleplay?

    Research: Say the word, and someone will groan. And yet, it is the single most useful tool in a writer’s arsenal. A writer is always researching, whether or not they realize it, translating every experience they have into information which they can then use for their fount of inspiration. Research is not the strict, school-mandated institution that comes to mind. Breaking yourself of that association is a vital key to opening up new possibilities in your writing.

    Consider this: If you know nothing about the way that a hospital is laid out, how can you expect to properly set the scene of a story taking place inside of one? Sure, you can fudge your way through it, but those who are familiar will notice inaccuracies and be thrown out of your narrative, and those who aren’t familiar will be as confused and disjointed from the setting as you are. You don’t need to be an expert; you just need to know enough to make your audience think you are. A little information goes a long way.

    Research does not necessarily mean long hours of reading through boring, dry text on subjects that don’t interest you. Fictional works can be used for research, keeping in mind the pitfalls of trusting an author's artistic license. Search engines, too, are a marvelous thing. You can find photographs, artistic impressions, YouTube videos, blog entries of first-hand accounts, and even music that will help inform or inspire. You can make a game of it, and help yourself write in the same move; take each piece of information you uncover, and project it into the context of your story. Imagine how and why it would be relevant. Overcome the resistance to research, and you’ll overcome many of your stumbling blocks.

    4. What is the conflict in your roleplay?

    Conflict is the spice of life, and therefore, your story is bland and tasteless without it. Conflict can be as simple as finding a date to prom, or as convoluted as that of Israel and Palestine; as visual as defeating the army of the evil king, or as intangible as overcoming a dark side of yourself; as external as a ravening monster, or as internal as cancer. There must be something for the protagonists, or players, to overcome in order to be fulfilled. Without conflict, a story dissolves, and your audience loses interest. Creating an antagonist, personified or conceptualized, is vital to a successful plot.

    Your antagonist, your conflict, should embody the themes of your roleplay. It is the task of the antagonist to challenge the protagonists, to force them to answer the questions you’ve laid out for them. It is what allows the characters to truly shine, and gives meaning to the story. Try taking one of the themes of your roleplay and giving it shape. How would you depict “fear”, or “oppression”, or “doubt”?

    Finally, last but not least…

    5. Will it be fun for you to roleplay?

    Writers tend to take their craft quite seriously. For some, it is a profession, a means of making a living; for others, it is their one shining beacon in an otherwise dull day. Writers are always seeking to perfect their work, to get as close to conveying their ideal message as possible. In this process, we often lose sight of the most important part of writing: We should enjoy it.

    If you are not enjoying your own concept, take a step back and think about why. What is it missing? Why is it not hitting the right notes? What can you do about it? If you can’t answer these questions, especially the last, it is time to let this idea go. Sure, it might be an excellent concept... but it is not, at present, right for you. There’s no shame in setting it aside. Remember: You are your most important audience. If you’re not getting anything out of writing it, chances are that no one will get anything from reading it, either.

    Save that energy for a story you truly can play with.
    #1 Astaroth, Nov 14, 2011
    Last edited: Apr 30, 2013