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Is online RP a writing craft?

We assembled a panel of users to ask is online RP a writing craft? What follows is a brief summary of what we discovered together.

Absolutely. I consider it far more of a writing and narrative process (as I've said before) than a game. The characters we create are interacting through collaborative story telling and the game portion comes in through special story telling tools like stat systems, dynamic interactive settings, and so forth. The medium is still writing, though! I personally find it to be highly useful for sharpening your skill in the craft.- Tailbone

For a full understanding of how the community came to these conclusions, you're encouraged to read the complete log.

No one in our discussion disagreed with the basic sentiment that online RP is a writing craft, but there was a vast range of opinion when it came to what types of writing were preferred.

Let's start with what nearly everyone could agree on:

Basic writing skills are required

People were willing to forgive errors when it was clear that the person on the other end was doing their best, as in the case of someone who is just learning English or struggles with their spelling.

There is a profound complexity in anything that involves writing. While spelling is a plus, and plot arcs are a necessity in order to encourage long-term interaction and the best possible story, I think there is a lot of thought and detail that needs to go into bringing those stories to life through description that is capable of really making a scene vivid and memorable. I enjoy eloquence and description that paints pictures in the mind like a very good book, and that is definitely a matter of true craft. [...] I personally think that technical errors are nothing in the face of IC reactions that are unrealistic, uninspired and uninspiring.- Wizard

However, they felt that in many cases, a high error rate was a red flag, believing that those who are truly putting effort into their writing tended to gradually improve over time, proof read their work, or use a program like Word to compose their posts so they could avail themselves of a spell checker. It was as if the amount of care that people put into their basic writing was a window into how much effort they put into making the experience fun for others -- or, put a different way, often indicated how much responsibility they felt toward their fellow players, the importance of which we discussed last week!

To me, having a high rate of error (unless done stylistically--think "Flowers for Algernon") is a sign of lazy writing. If you're not going to put the effort into your basic sentence structure and spelling, how do I know you're going to put effort into character creations, interactions, plot arcs, &c?- Copper_Dragon

When it came to deliberate "errors", such as text speak, there was not a single voice in the crowd that felt it was acceptable to use such shortcuts in RP.

Text speak should not ever be used. Text speak is lazy and meant to shortcut on communication time. In an RP I'd by like "Am I keeping you from something more important? "
Words create stories, not a mass of abbreviations and symbols.- Mellute

Writing for RP is different than solo writing

The largest difference that was identified between solo writing and writing for RP was that when composing a post, a RPer must always remember to offer something for their partners to respond to, or provide something that moves the action forward.

When it coems to posting length my opinion is that 20 lines of stuff you can't respond to is just as bad as a single line, no matter how well or bad it is spelled- XinonHyena

That didn't always mean writing a physical action like swinging a sword or speaking some dialogue -- providing emotional information that was meaty enough that another character could guess at something interesting going unspoken.

And the kitchen sink?

Most players felt that any length of post was acceptable, from one sentence to a full page - and any length in between.

Quality and quantity can go hand in hand without becoming tedious. A good writer knows how to address a scene in all its facets (from the layout of the characters surroundings, to the deep feelings going on within the individuals mind. I find what a character is feeling or thinking as interesting as what they happen to be saying.- garoul17

That said, nearly everyone also felt that there was such a thing as a post with too much information. Or rather, non-information. Players spoke about struggling to find the relevant information in a post that was overstuffed with "fluff", and missing important details because they were overshadowed with "padding".

Padding/fluff is:

Repetitive descriptions about the color of the wall you're sitting near and only that wall- garoul17

Perhaps fluff could be considered over using adverbs and adjectives for the sake of increasing post length?- Solar

Waxing eloquent about something that doesn't really matter or contributes nothing to the scene- PenGryphon2007

Fluff is just something that fluffs up the post, but isn't per se disruptive. What I call disruptive fluff is padding. Just adding stuff to lengthen the post without it actually contributing -anything- to the scene, story, etc.- Earendill

Some players were working hard at the art of concise yet vivid writing.

Well it of course depends on what exactly the characters are up to at the time, but when you have people lying on a bed chatting, or sitting around eating, or cutting hair while someone else can only sit there, etc. it creates a challenge to keep the story moving along while remaining interesting. There is a whole different skill required to challenge requirements of quality when a reply may simply be a shrug, a clip of scissors, and a short word. Then you find the find balance between what might be considered "fluff" and stretching something out and adding true color.- Tailbone

I personally enjoy a more fast-moving, real-time kind of RP, posts consisting of a single action or sentence. Like lightspeed improv.- SeraphicStar

Yet others urged that we remember that sometimes, the little details do matter.

As ever, it was about a healthy balance and a good understanding of what meshes best between your desires and what entertains the rest of your RP group.

Well it'd be like having Tolkien and CS Lewis write a joint story. Tolkien goes on for pages with description, while Lewis cuts right to the point. I think in terms of resolving a conflict between styles, you either have to adapt to the other's--or come to a sort of middle-ground--or just resolve that it doesn't work and part on friendly terms.- PenGryphon2007

Immersive vs. Narrative style writing

During our discussions, two very distinct styles of RP writing began to emerge: Immersive and Narrative.

Those who liked to write in an immersive style tailored their posts so that their RP partners could easily slip into the role of their character, better immersing themselves in how that character would feel and react in the scene. That meant including only information in their posts that the other players' characters would be able to experience themselves.

I like to write things as they would be witnessed by the other characters I am playing with unless I am in a scene where my character is 'important'. To that end, if I were interacting with a blind character that did not know mine well, yes, I would describe sounds and otherwise above all else, though perhaps provide some small amount of exposition in order to help the player get a feel for what the character might deduct from the data being gathered by their remaining senses in order to keep the story going.- Wizard

Then there were those who preferred a more narrative style, including things that most characters would not be able to experience at all, such as thoughts when playing across from a character that couldn't read minds. Then the other players were responsible for picking out what their characters would actually be able to see and react to themselves.

Some players felt that this narrative style allowed them to provide clues to players about where the story might go in the future. This seemed to relate to the concept of "positive metagaming" that was introduced in last week's discussion.

Getting better at writing for RP

What can you do to get better at writing for RP? Our interlocutors came up with the following advice:
  1. Practice
    The only way to get better at writing, is to keep doing it. There's no hard, fast rule that says "This is the way you should do it" -- because in the end you're going to have to experiment to see what works for you. And sometimes trying new and daring things will surprise you.- PenGryphon2007
  2. Read
    At a minimum, reading a lot of books will help a player with the flow of words and vocabulary. Books (and also movies and TV shows) can also give us not only inspiration for scenes, people, and action, they can also serve as examples for the pacing of a story.- StarArmy
  3. Discuss
  4. Stay eager

But let's close with some encouragement and reassurance, for those who don't feel up to par every day:

It should be noted that, while you should try it give your best and put out a great post to inspire your fellow players, sometimes you just won't feel 100%. But a 70% post is better than no post at all. If the story and RP doesn't keep moving, it's dwindle out and people will lose that spark, that excitement that makes them want to come back to the forum. So even if your post isn't epic, at least it's a post and your fellow players will appreciate having something to read when they log on.- StarArmy

If you want to read more of this discussion, I encourage you to read the full chat log: chat log.