Roleplaying Guide

The act of taking up the role of a fictional character and writing about it may come easily for some, but not everyone. There are many obstacles and pitfalls that can interfere with a player's ability to actively pursue this otherwise enjoyable pastime. Some are outwardly avoidable while others are inherent but can be palliated. This roleplaying guide is intended to highlight and assist with some of these problems. We hope you find it helpful.

Writer's Block
Time to Write
Providing Atmosphere & Expanding on Ideas
Creating a Scene & Making it Interesting
Avoiding Over-indulgence


We've all run into this one: "What the heck do I write?" First, you have to decide where the writer's block comes from. Is it something external (e.g., mind on something else, no time to write, don't feel like writing)? If it is, stop. There's no need to write anything if something is working against you in the real world; it will just frustrate you more and you'll likely to write a post that doesn't meet your expectations. Simply tell the group that you're taking a short leave of absence so you can deal with the problem. No one will think any less of you for it.

If you find yourself sitting down to the computer and staring at a blank screen for more than 15 minutes thinking that you're out of ideas, you've encountered true writer's block. Many PBEM players, especially new ones, will expect others in the game to provide them with ideas or stimulus for their character to respond to. However, the Starship Republic is a co-operative writing campaign, which means that you will be expected to generate your own sub-plot ideas to give your character something to do. This can be a daunting task, especially if you cannot come up with ideas for your posts.

One thing to remember in this case is that all stories emerge from some very basic plotline. If you watch a movie, read a book, or observe a play, you'll notice that it has a similar plot to something else you may have seen in the past. This is not deja vu. Throughout the twentieth century, especially the latter half where the entertainment industry boomed, stories have been told and retold in thousands of different venues and environments. For instance, the idea of an otherworldly, menacing creature emerging to wreak havoc upon a normal human population has been seen in King Kong, Frankenstein, Godzilla, Creature From the Black Lagoon, Jaws, Aliens, etc. Virtually every story you have ever encountered can somehow be translated to fit your character in the Starship Republic campaign.

What can you do? Your boss asked you to work late this week, your significant other has a birthday tomorrow, you have an upcoming test in your night class, the dishes have been sitting in the sink for days, and your dog fluffy needs to go to the vet. Writing for a PBEM can take a lot of personal time, especially if you find creative writing difficult. In these cases, the solution is easy: Real life trumps. This, or any other type of gaming, is a leisure activity. Do it when you have time, and don't sacrifice more important things in your life. Simply write an e-mail to the group and say you won't be posting for a little while. No one will mind, and in fact, your fellow players will probably appreciate it. Just falling silent with everyone wondering where you went leaves a bad taste in everyone's mouths.

These skills can make the difference between a great post and a boring one. Fortunately, it's not all that difficult to do. All it requires is a good vocabulary (or thesaurus!) and an ability to put yourself an another person's shoes. For instance, note the difference between these two scenes:

Jack walked through the corridor to his quarters.
Coming off duty, Jack decided to retire to his quarters by taking his usual turbolift ride to deck eight. As he walked off the elevator with a leisurely stroll, he passed through the off-white concentric corridor lined with black consoles and an occasional potted plant. Arriving at his abode, he pressed the entry button causing the doors to slide open with a soft, pneumatic hiss. With a tired yawn, he proceeded into his apartment with pleasant thoughts of a good night's sleep.

See? By putting themselves in the situation of Jack, and paying attention to every detail he might see throughout the duration of the scene, a writer can identify and incorporate these elements into their story, making it sound more interesting and provide a "feel" for the environment that Jack is experiencing.

If you can't find a way to expand your writing, and you find your story a bunch of short sentences like the first scene above, take a second look at it. Start asking yourself questions: What does the corridor that Jack is walking though look like? What level of the ship is Jack's quarters on? Why is he going to his quarters? If he's tired and coming off duty, how does he react? What are his motives?

Next, start coming up with new elements that can answer these questions: The corridor is off-white and has black consoles on the walls. It's a civilian part of the ship, so there might be some decorations like potted plants. Jack is tired. He'll be yawning and walking haphazardly. He'll be looking forward to hitting the bunk. Jack will be walking off a turbolift in order to get to his quarters. The doors make sound when they open and close.

Almost every element in the scene can be expanded upon if you put yourself in your fictional characters' shoes. Charles Dickens, the author of "Great Expectations," was, at the time, being paid by his publisher for each word he wrote in the book. The result was a cherished work of art, and although it could have been written in fewer pages, Dickens expanded on ideas and spent a large amount of effort into describing the environment around his characters. Not only did it make his story better, but he also made more money!

Much of what I write here, including the generalized story outline below, is derived from a very good (albeit old) book called "Twenty Problems Of The Fiction Writer" by John Gallishaw (© 1929 G.P. Putnam's Sons / The Knickerbocker Press).

Every single e-mail post you write should always contain the following:

  1. Stimulus. (most often another person).
  2. Actor
  3. Actor's response, characterizing the actor.

These are the basic building blocks of creative writing. If a story does not have these elements, then it's not a story; it's just a bunch of words. Look at your character as an actor, and you are the screenwriter controlling him or her. Decide on a stimulus: Is this going to be an expansion on a subplot? A start of a new subplot? And finally, think about how your actor will react to the stimulus. What's their personality? Are they bold? Are they sensitive? Are they indifferent? Don't forget to be consistent with your actors' personality; if they react to a particular stimuli, they should react the same to future situations with similar stimuli.

Each post or finalized joint-post in a PBEM campaign should be considered a complete scene in the overall storyline. Here is what Gallishaw considers the primary steps to every scene in a particular story to gain narrative interest:

  1. Bring actor and opposing force together
  2. Show that one has a purpose
  3. Show interchange
  4. Show conclusive act
  5. The effect

An opposing force need not be a malevolent entity. In fact, it could be a loved one, friend, computer, pet, or any situation you wish to write about. The last step, the effect, is the emotional response you wish to invoke in you audience: fear, anger, sadness, glee, humor, contentedness, confusion, triumph, etc. Gallishaw goes into great detail on "the effect" as well as other ways to engage narrative interest, but I think it is best summed up with the following table, scanned directly from his book:

Laws of Interest

It's all too easy to become so involved in your character that you, yourself, feel every single emotion that they feel in their fictional environment. This can sometimes be a good thing when you're out of ideas as to what to write, but more often than not, it leads down a path where you become overly sensitive to everything that happens to your character. Sometimes it can even lead to symptoms of addiction, where you find yourself checking the e-mail forum every half hour throughout the day to see who responded to your recent post. If you find yourself doing the latter, ask yourself this question: How upset would you become if the GM arbitrarily killed off your character? If the answer is "very upset," then you've overdone it. Take a break for a few weeks, relax, engage in some real-world activities, and return only when you've been able to put the game into perspective for what it is: just a game.

Like most activities, over-indulgence in a PBEM (or any roleplaying game, for that matter) is a sure-fire path towards burnout resulting in an emotional and sometimes embarrassing withdrawal from the PBEM where all interest is lost in the game. Moderation is the key. Keep your focus on the real world, and play the game like you would an esquire sport. You'll be much more satisfied with the results.


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