Writing for Roleplay

The very basics of writing for forum roleplay are similar to writing well in school. Yes — you have to write well in forum roleplay! If that prospect makes you frown, roleplaying on forums may not be for you. It’s a creative writing pursuit, after all. That said, you don’t have to worry about perfection: no one’s grading your roleplay. Mistakes happen, and a little clunky grammar, a few typos, and some misspelled words won’t be the end of the world when you’re roleplaying.

Tense

Most play-by-post roleplay is done in the third person, past-tense. Third person is preferred as it’s generally more descriptive — and usually easier to read — than first-person writing. Past tense is preferred because it’s generally a little easier to write, and somewhat more flexible in a collaborative environment.

Examples

WRONG I walk to the refrigerator and open a can of synthetic blood. Cracking it open, I pour it into my mouth.
RIGHT He walked to the refrigerator and opened a can of synthetic blood. Cracking it open, he poured it into his mouth.
WRONG I stride pridefully down the cavernous throne-room hall. My eyes never leave the massive chair at the end of the carpet, and I ignore the crackle of whispers to either side of me.
RIGHT The queen strode pridefully down the cavernous throne-room hall. Her eyes never left the massive chair at the end of the carpet, and she ignored the crackle of whispers to either side of her.

Spelling and Grammar

Spelling and grammar is a must in good roleplay etiquette. If you type in chatspeak, 1337, or any other unintelligible manner, you will most definitely anger your fellow roleplayers (most of us consider ourselves writers, you know!). Proper typing and spelling are important IC and OOC—if your Private Messages and thread requests are unintelligible, you’ll have trouble finding roleplay.

There are numerous beginner roleplaying games that will be much more tolerant of poor typing, grammar, and spelling. Later on, when you’ve gotten better at writing, typing and roleplaying, you can join more advanced RPGs!

Understandably, conditions such as dyslexia do exist, and some people are just bad typers.

Spelling and Grammar Checkers

There are various ways you can spell-check your roleplay and make it more readable for other roleplayers.

  • Most modern browsers have a built-in spell checker.
  • Microsoft Word and Open Office are capable of checking your spelling.
  • Failing all else, there’s Spellchecker.net and various other in-browser ways to spell-check your roleplay, too!

Post Length

Post length is pretty important, but remember that it’s not all about length. Some forum roleplay games expect you to pump your posts with 800 words of fluff; other games don’t expect more than 200 words for a reply. It’s important to peer around at what’s going on in other threads. Try to match your roleplaying post’s length to the other roleplayers’ posts.

If you find you’re exceeding everyone else by hundreds of words and many paragraphs, consider a more advanced game. Conversely, if you find yourself writing only a few lines to someone’s paragraph-long reply, try to write a little more — or bow out of the game if you can’t keep up.

Thesaurus Abuse

Big words don’t automatically make your writing good. While vocabulary is very important, it’s not the only part of creating a great roleplaying post. Avoiding repetition of the same words is a good thing, but make sure you’re substituting the right words, too.

Often when you simply substitute thesaurus words, you’re changing the connotation of the word. Denotation is the word’s actual definition. The denotation (definition) is usually the same if you’re using the thesaurus. The connotation, though, is a shade of meaning often not covered in the dictionary. These minor shades of meaning can change your writing substantially and make it rather awkward if the connotations of your words disagree.

Example: Gloomy and Sullen

For example, take “gloomy” and ”sullen.” They’ll pop up as synonyms of one another if you search on Thesaurus.com, but they have subtly different meanings (gloomy is sadder and more melancholy, while sullen tends to have a snappish, standoffish quality).

Example: Green and Grassy

A fairly blatant example of this is seeking synonyms for “green” and finding “grassy.” Yep, sure, you can totally use “grassy” as a substitute for green. It’s not incorrect to do so, technically speaking — but it sounds seriously weird in some applications. Have you ever thought of someone as having “grassy eyes” before? A “grassy green car” or “grassy-color t-shirt” are a little better, but still awkward — and doesn’t avoid a secondary modifier word!

Example: Wolfspeak

Wolfspeak: please don't.
Wolfspeak: please don’t.

Some forms of wolf roleplay tend to have a problem with a certain kind of thesaurus abuse, known colloquially as “wolfspeak.” Wolfspeak should be avoided. Urban Dictionary has a great list of wolfspeak words to avoid in your wolf roleplaying.

Post Formatting

Avoid Textwall Posts

RPG posts that consist of “text-walls” (without paragraph breaks, as one solid block of writing) are bad. They’re very hard on the eyes. Separate your posts into paragraph form.

  • If HTML is not enabled, the lines should break automatically when you hit enter.
  • If your forum uses HTML, you can use the <br> tag to make a new line.

Avoid Hard Break “Alignment”

Please do not hit enter mid-sentence or unnecessarily to give your post
a weird alignment like this where every line is as close to the same length
as possible but it’s done manually via line breaks rather than by justified
alignment because it is also very difficult to read.*

*Proof? Read the above paragraph again, but this time listen to your inner “reading voice.” It jerks to a stop after every line ends, even though there is no natural pause (comma or period).

Differentiate Speech, Thought, and Action

Quotation Marks or Bold on Speech

Bold your speech, or enclose your speech with quotation marks. There’s some debate in roleplay over bold speech: some games require it, some games ban it altogether! Some players feel it detracts from reading and writing; other players feel it helps them skim the thread for delectable roleplay drama, even if they’re not participating. Either way you want to roll, though, one thing’s clear. Differentiating your speech from your roleplay is important. Make sure you do so, either with bold or quotation marks (or both!).

Italicize Character Thoughts

Italicize your thoughts. Do not intermix what you use for direct thoughts with speech.

Don’t Use Action Markers

Some forms of roleplay — generally chat roleplay — use asterisks or other symbols to denote actions, e.g.:

Azazel39933: *Azazel walks to Baphomet, his head bowed.* Master, I’ve failed you. *He hesitates, holding his breath.*
The_Baphomet: ~Baphomet frowns, the edges of his mouth turning down.~ I am displeased. ~He looks to Cherael, his eyes hard.~

This is generally not a convention in forum roleplay. Some forums geared toward beginner roleplayers may make use of action markers, but it’s generally disallowed or strongly discouraged in more advanced games.

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