I have to confess that I love text-based role play, and I credit the hobby for making me the writer I am today. I'm not talking about “sexy nurse seductively takes care of her patient” role play, I'm talking about the art of collaborative fiction. People do it on LiveJournal, Wordpress blogs, AIM, AOL, MSN, and countless other messengers. They do it through email and some of them even snail mail it. Sometimes it's fan fiction based on a popular movie, novel, or series, sometimes it's all original – that was my forte. It takes at least two people, but more than that is always fun. You can create entire worlds, solely from your own imagination. I've been doing it since way back when AOL was the internet provider of choice, and in the fifteen-odd years since, I've learned several reasons text-based role play is great for writers.
Text-based role play goes really fast – ideally. You can take an hour between responses, but you won't have a writing partner for very long. The way you play depends on your preferences: you and your partner(s) may sketch out an outline, just as you do when writing; you may know exactly where you want a scene or story to go; and you may jump in with both feet, and go for spontaneity instead. It's all up to you, but because you never know what someone else's characters will say or do, you have to think quickly.
The things you write about are all up to you. Even if you're writing a fanfic role play, you probably won't stick to set scripts from current TV episodes and movies. You have to come up with the story lines, and it will give your imagination a fantastic workout.
You also get fantastic at writing description. You're painting a picture with words here, and you have to make sure your partners know exactly what scene you're setting. It's not just about describing your character's long, flowing hair or adorable smile, you have to set the stage for everything. Where does your character live? What's his or her job? What does he or she drive? You have to make it rich, imaginative, and interesting or no one's going to want to role play with you.
If you write, I'm sure you get inspired by other writers. The beautiful part of text-based role play is that you read more to find more inspiration. You'll come across a writer whose tone, description, and flow you love, and you'll devour more of their books so it will make you better in your collaborative writing. There's never anything bad about reading more books.
However, you'll also find inspiration everywhere else. You'll hear a song that makes you want to write a certain scene. You'll see something in a TV show or movie that inspires a new conflict. You'll even draw inspiration from the places and people you know in real life. Your crush might find his or her way into your story, you never know!
Writing with others pushes you to do your best. You want to keep them interested and invested in your story, and the better they are, the better you'll strive to be. You'll pick up little tips and quirks from your partners, and they'll do the same.
Everyone writes differently. Everyone has a different tone. You may write with someone who loves sci-fi or historical fiction. You may write with someone who prefers a Hemingway-style of minimalism, or someone whose prose flows like Janet Fitch's. You'll learn to fit your style to your playing partner(s), but without ever losing your own voice, and that will help tremendously in your own writing.
Text-based role play is tons of fun, but it's not for everyone. Still, if you're a fiction writer and you enjoy coming up with characters, stories, rich histories, and odd quirks, if you love sharing what you create with others, and if you're looking for a really stimulating hobby, I do strongly suggest you at least try it. Maybe it's dorky to say this, but it changed my life and I still love it. Have you ever RPed online, or anywhere else? Do you think it's made you a better writer?
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