Delivering RP that sparkles.
If you hang around in this hobby long enough, you’ll eventually run across two debates on RP style. The first is a debate around pose length: short, fast poses or long poses that scroll down half the screen? The second debate revolves around style: the narrative style in which it is ok to mention what your character is thinking, vs. the improvisational acting style, in which it’s only alright to display dialogue and pure action.
I’ve spent a lot of years in this hobby. Over the years I’ve been a real fixture on about 8 games (some still open, some not), with another 25 or so getting a few months of my time before I decided they weren’t for me (or before the RP dried up). During the course of all this experience I have made a startling realization: the truly great RPers, the ones who are getting the votes or applauds, the ones who have people clamoring to scene with them, and the ones that staffers try to woo into positions…do not spend a lot of time agonizing over either debate.Instead, they concentrate on delivering RP that sparkles.
Now let’s talk about how to get your RP to sparkle.
Every 4 minutes (note, all statistics are made up), someone someMU* enters a room and makes the following sort of pose:
Jane enters the room and looks around for a minute before finally settling on a place to sit down.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this pose. It tells what Jane is doing, it lets the other players know Jane is there and ready to play, and it does not have any appalling faux pas attached to it to make everyone in the room groan, (though at least one person in the room is rolling their eyes because the pose barely reached two lines).
Then there are the long posers who might give us something like this:
The spring wind gusts warmly into the room as Jane opens the door. The wind toys briefly with her hair and clothes as her emerald eyes scan the room, seeking a place to sit down. She closes the door behind her. She was not raised in a barn, after all. She crosses the room and settles into the chair of her choice.
Again, nothing wrong with this pose. It’s very pretty, very descriptive. It again serves the purpose of letting us know Jane has arrived. No faux pas here either (though someone in the room is already rolling their eyes that it took four lines to tell us Jane walked in and sat down).There are, by the way, folks who could make that pose longer.
Both of these poses, though, lack real sparkle, and here is why.
An opening pose, just like the opening lines of an article or book, serve as the hook for your character. It serves to make the people in the room want to RP with you. Though trying to craft the perfect opening pose can be silly when you’re about to engage in a prearranged scene or a scene with someone you’ve been RPing with for years, it is invaluable for getting the RP to come to you with new people or situations. It has to grab attention. It has to make people askwhy. You do not need a disaster to do this. You don’t have to come in bleeding or limping, though either is perfectly valid for getting people to ask why, and probably in a hurry. You just need something that makes people stop, think, and ask themselves a few questions about who you are and what you are doing. How you do this will depend greatly on who your character is, of course, but that’s all to the good, as having people get to know your character is all part of the process. The easiest ways to do this are through emotions, through noteworthy actions, or through stuff.
Again, you don’t need angst, though angst is valid. The character doesn’t have to run inside in tears or be white with fear. They don’t even have to be angry, though again, anger is perfectly valid. Any emotion works here, because if emotion is conveyed people tend to want to know what’s behind the emotion. Happiness works just as well. Below I give you the method, both long and short.
Jane has a little spring in her step as she enters the room. She looks around for a minute, a broad grin on her face, before finally settling on a place to sit down.
The spring wind gusts warmly into the room as Jane opens the door. The wind toys briefly with her hair and clothes as her emerald eyes twinkle as they scan the room, seeking a place to sit down. She closes the door behind her, very carefully. She was not raised in a barn, after all.She crosses the room with measured steps before settling delicately into the chair of her choice, a bright smile on her face.
Now the other people sitting in the room have an immediate question they can ask. Instead of merely “approaching Jane’s table” or “looks up and nods at Jane” which are the most likely outcomes of the first set of poses. People in the room are invited to ask themselves, or Jane, “Hey, why are you so happy?” A conversation has just begun. RP has just been initiated. The curmudgeon in the bar who normally wouldn’t talk to Jane because he doesn’t talk to strangers can feel free to snap at her because she’s ruining his Miller time with all her goodness and light. Or the bartender can look up and comment on how radiant she’s looking today. Nobody has to search for why they’d talk to this person: through the simple conveyance of emotion, and simple human curiosity, an immediate, simple hook is formed that invites people into the action in an unforced way.
Note that you can use “narrative” style for this as well as the improvisational acting style I just demonstrated, but it is best if you don’t give anything substantive away if you use the narrative style. After all, you’re trying to make the other RP’ers ask questions, which they won’t do if you tell them all the answers in your first pose. Even in narration, authors usually hold a little something back. So, below, in narrative:
The world is Jane’s oyster today, and, as she looks around the room with a broad grin, she can’t imagine what is wrong with all these frowning, grouchy people sitting around in here.There’s plenty of bounce in her walk as she sits down; the day is young and there’s plenty to be done!
Here you have a peek inside of Jane’s head (she can’t imagine what’s wrong with the others in the room, which you wouldn’t have known from the previous examples), but you still don’t know what’s making her so happy in the first place.
Someone comes in scratching themselves furiously. Most people are going to say something: offer them some medicine, ask what’s wrong, advise them that scratching only makes it worse.If someone comes in clearly carrying more than they can handle, people might rush to help, tell them to watch out for the chair they don’t see in their path, or, if they’re particularly malicious, might trip the poor fellow. And if you trip and fall, spilling something on someone, they’re almost certainly going to have something to say about it, whether in anger or forgiveness.
In the emotional opener, you’re trying to get people to ask themselves why, to figure out what’s going on with you. And this is sometimes true for the Action pose as well. After all, if you come in and what you’re doing is breaking the shaft off an arrow that’s lodged in your arm, people are probably going to want to know why you were shot and who shot you. But more than that, people will try to sit you down, scramble for medicine (or try to finish you off, but MU*’s are often full of very nice people who only want to help). In the unusual action pose, your aim is togive people something to react to.
Jane races into the room, holding up a really big copperhead. Her little hands clench the jaws closed. She raises the poisonous snake high and announces proudly, “Look what I caught, everybody! Wanna see?”
If your character is sitting in this room, wouldn’t he or she react? I’d hope you would. I’d hope your character wouldn’t sit there like a stone, nodding or observing or blinking or doing any of those other really boring things that afflict MU* characters everywhere. I hope your character would leap up in alarm, or run away because he’s afraid of snakes, or try to get the snake away from Jane, or tell her loudly to throw it away outside and demand to know what she was thinking, anyway!
Your opening pose doesn’t always have to be alarming to get results people can react to. It can be sultry, it can be funny, it can be sad. Jane can come in and offer to buy drinks for the first man who kisses her right now. (Poor Jane, she’s undergone a lot of age and personality shifts through this article). She can come in trying to teach herself to juggle and hitting herself in the head with the balls. She could come in waving newly wet, bright purple nails in the air so that people can comment on the polish. You’re in this hobby because you’ve got an active imagination. For God’s sake, use it. Try to figure out what your character was doing just before the scene you’re going to RP in, and what evidences of that would be on his or her person. It doesn’t always have to be new. My very first MU* character was a notoriously bad cook. I used this device to open a number of scenes, from walking in to offer a basket of cookies to a guardsman who’d done me a favor (only to reveal they were little blackened paperweights), to bringing the innkeep a new doorstop (the attempted bread), to coming in with flour all over her and char in the hair and grumpily ordering dinner for herself and her two children, obviously having just tried and failed to do it herself. Eventually someone decided to try to teach her to cook, and we spent many nice RP scenes outside of the bar while I milked that for all it was worth. And eventually she got the hang of it, though she was never great, and I had to find a new RP device (though I eventually brought the guardsman one basket of passable cookies).Not only did this give them something to react to, but it was something memorable about my character that other players could latch onto.
Stuff is great. George Carlin once pointed out, quite accurately, that humans are obsessed with our stuff, and where to store our stuff. Stuff can also be an effective RP generator. The quickest example that comes to mind actually comes from another person’s character. He’s long done with this hobby, as far as I know, but I can still remember 9 years ago when his character came wandering into the common room clutching a tiny sack like it was a lifeline.
When nobody immediately reacted to the sack, he just kept including it in his pose. He hugged it close while drinking his drink, played with it, snarled at someone who got too close.Eventually my character, a person who was as notoriously nosy as she was a bad cook, had to wander over and inquire as to what was in the bag. The answer provided about three month’s worth of RP.
If someone comes in with a bag, box, sack, or chest, people naturally want to know what’s in it.Sometimes what is in the box is obvious. Someone who is carrying a suitcase is probably carrying clothes (probably). But why are they carrying clothes? Stuff makes you ask why, and stuff gives you something to react to.
Jane lugs two heavy suitcases up to the bar and drops them, one to either side of the stool. She climbs up to the stool and cries, “Bartender! One last cider before I run away from home!”
Of course, you don’t always have to conceal what it is. Stuff out of place works just as well.
As Jane walks into the common room, she turns the key on the tiny gold music box in her hand. A slow, sad melody begins to fill the room. She walks over to an empty table and sets it down carefully, in an empty place, as if there was someone sitting there. Then she walks away from it, letting it continue its mournful melody.
What the heck is this girl doing with a music box in a bar? Why is she acting so strangely with it? To find out you’ll have to do what you logged on to do. You’ll have to RP. And thanks to Jane, you don’t have to struggle with small talk, talk about the weather, or the notorious background share. This is why Jane’s RP has sparkle - and you know it in just one pose.Now go out, and be Jane.
In the last article, I discussed the entry pose and how important it can be to generating RP.
Sometimes you are not entering a room. Sometimes you are already there. It provides a nice break from always entering rooms, to already be there. Handled correctly, it can also be an excellent RP hook, another chance to give your RP some real sparkle and shine.
The scene set pose is actually a great deal more flexible than the entry pose, but it relies on the same principles. You want to provide a hook, capture interest. You want to make them ask why, or ask what’s going on. You want to give them something to react to. Again, emotion, actions, or stuff are going to be the devices you use to get the ball rolling. Setting scene, however, can often be the hardest type of pose to open with. It requires the most work and imagination. So instead of taking you pose type by pose type like I did in the last article (besides, I’m sure you got the idea), I will give you some questions you can ask yourself that will help you craft your opening pose.
People are usually not just sitting around when other people enter a room. Sometimes someone really is just sitting around with a cup of tea, but “Joe sits in the living room near the fire, sipping on a cup of tea,” is so common on MU*s that it’s a wonder that MUSHers haven’t bought out the tea industry. People are active creatures. They do things. And if he is just in there sipping tea, or taking a nap, or flipping aimlessly through television channels, what was he doing before then?
Was he at work? What does he do? Did he try to cook dinner or clean the house? Was he taking care of children? Volunteering at a soup kitchen? Did he get mugged today? Did he just find out that his assets have been frozen? Was he studying? Did he get into a fight with his wife? Did he play chess with his child?
Let us note something else. MUSH people often assume that if it did not happen on-screen, that it did not happen. But that’s foolish. Your character’s world is filled with NPCs you never see. The PC can have problems and headaches, assets and activities, that other PCs did not cause. If he works for a real live PC, he still has co-workers and activities that he won’t RP out with that PC. Are you with your boss 24/7? I hope not, for your sake and sanity. Give some real thought as to what goes on in your character’s life when you’re not around to play him.
When people do things, there tends to be some sort of evidence of those things left over. If Joe just got done with his schoolwork, his books may be scattered all over the table. If he got mugged, his shirt may be torn and there may be a cut above his left eye from where he ran away. If his credit card was declined and he doesn’t know why, he could be on the phone screaming at the customer service guy on the other end when the other player walks into the room. If he had a fight with his wife or girlfriend, there could still be a shattered cup or plate where someone threw it. Or there could be stuff missing because she just left him and took thet.v. with her. Even a relatively boring day at work has its evidence: a suit jacket draped across a chair, a pair of shoes kicked off at last.
You don’t always have to open the scene with your character’s presence. You could open it by presenting the evidence and keeping your character out of the room, letting the other player react first to the evidence (stuff!) and then returning your character to the room (a scene set, entry, one-two punch combo)! to deal with the other player’s reaction. This works even if the evidence is familiar and expected. To demonstrate this, I will borrow Dr. Sherlock Holmes and Mr. Watson. Holmes is setting the scene.
The chemistry set puffs amiably away, endlessly dripping unnamed substances into vials and philters. There are feathers all over the floor, as well as the sad remains of a pillow. The pillow has been shot, brutally murdered really. Not that this is abnormal. It seems Holmes needed to test another gun. The room smells faintly of pear brandy and cigar smoke. Holmes’ violin is set out almost carelessly on the coffee table.
Watson takes in the scene with a slight smile. Holmes must have needed to test another gun, see if a bullet matched. With a resigned sigh he starts to pick up the feathers. The housekeeper will be distressed if she finds it in this state, and Watson would rather she were happily cooking than angrily picking up Holmes’ leavings.
Now Holmes is free to burst in with his latest announcement or angst. Watson has something to react to - the feathers on the floor, and the cozy familiarity of home. Holmes has something to react to as well: Watson picking up the feathers, and whatever he was working on before the good doctor came home.
If your character did something before this scene, and if it’s left some evidence, then it has probably left him in some sort of emotional state. Too many MU*ers rely on the word “calm.”People are rarely calm. People act calm a lot, and in some situations the act of pretending to be calm can be a great plot point. But how often do you come home from a hard day of work feeling nothing but “calm?” You might feel bleh…that sort of icky tired feeling where you don’t care about much. That’s a form of calm, but it’s not calm. It is bleh. You might be content…another hard day’s work completed, time to relax…and content looks a lot like calm, but its not.It is content. Calm is like “nice”. (See George Carlin’s sketch on the word ‘nice’). It is a non-word. Seas are calm, people pretend to be calm, but rarely are they calm. And even a character who is pretending to be calm is going to betray his emotions somehow. His eyes will narrow just a trifle. His words will grow stiff or warm. His mouth will quirk on the edge of a chuckle that isn’t proper to this nice calm situation he’s trying to portray.
If you know how your character is feeling about what’s going on in his life, what he’s thinking about and how it affects him, you can bring it forth in your RP. Subtle or blatant, it will give the other player something to react to. Something to talk about to his friends later.
Good RP begets more good RP, and good RP starts with good questions.
There are so many bland, beautiful, nice people in the MU* world. Some of them have backgrounds that would do a soap opera writer proud - but those backgrounds have not done anything to make them less bland. They just give them something to talk about, usually during some sort of background info-dump RP. In the worst case, it gives them something to whine about endlessly, without ever making them anymore interesting.
You can actually salvage a character like this by fleshing her out a little bit and applying some basic principles, so never fear. You won’t have to rewrite your characters to give them sparkle in this way.
MUSH life takes after Hollywood sometimes. Everyone is beautiful or handsome, looks about 25 despite their real age, is generally white, and is a snappy dresser. And while this is serviceable, it’s not very interesting. Because of our culture we think we have to be beautiful to be liked, so our tendency is to describe our characters that way. Then again, some of the most loved characters in the world had physical flaws. Think of it this way: Hermione Granger had long teeth, Ron Weasley had big ears, and Harry Potter had bad hair.
I once received very good advice on this. “Just describe what the character looks like. Let me decide if she’s ugly or beautiful.”
So, ask yourself questions. Is she tall or short? Skinny or plump, or even, god forbid, fat? Most people have eye color down, but do those eyes have any crows feet or laugh lines? If your character is anywhere near thirty, they should. Does she wear eye make up? Is her nose pert, broad, large, small, a button, patrician, a hatchet, a beak? Does she have a wide mouth or a tiny one, big lips or thin lips, a gap in her teeth? Are her cheekbones high? Is she gaunt? Pale?Tan? Is her face rounded, square oval? Does she get acne? Does she have a firm jawline or a soft one? A wide forehead? What about her eyebrows? Are they the same color as her hair?Are they soft, bushy, thin, slanted? At first glance does she look like she’s stern, or daydreaming? Some people have “pleasant faces prone to smile”, but that’s not most of us.Most of us look a little tired and haggard, truth be told. Maybe we look intense, focused, driven,stressed. Some women do indeed set out to look deliberately seductive. Some try and fall a little short, looking like overdone clowns instead. If you have big breasts, ladies, are they sagging just a little bit? Let me tell you, it’s hard to find and maintain truly good bras if you have big breasts. It’s hard to stand up straight, too: your shoulders are constantly pulling forward. If she’s tall, does she hunch her shoulders to try to blend in, or milk every inch for its intimidation value?
And what about clothes? She’s wearing a shirt and the shirt is blue, but is it tucked in sloppily or precisely? Does she forget to iron her clothes? (I forget to iron my clothes). Do her stockings run? Do her shoes need a good polish? Do her socks match? Jewelry is good. Some people overdo jewelry. How much is she wearing?
Most people find hair easiest, but sometimes I think if I see another hair description that talks about raven wings sweeping upward I’m going to scream. I have never met a person with sweeping raven wings. I have met people with bottle black hair that they pull back into a bun though.
The point is, get real. By getting real you can generate RP. Most people have physical problems they struggle with. Acne. Unwanted body hair. A nose they don’t like. Hair that is a constant source of aggravation. Tall kids feel self-conscious. Short people climb on counters to get at the soup. Big breasted women sometimes hitch up their bras and hope nobody notices.We do not have SWAT teams of designers and hair stylists to run out to fluff and primp us between shots, and unless your character is a movie star, neither does she. Consider yourdesc - and then consider what scenes you can generate with that description. If your character’s shirts, like mine, are always wrinkled because they’re so frazzled, then another character can come and try to beat some fashion sense into them. Maybe your character is mortified because her boyfriend comes into the apartment to surprise her with flowers - only she’s got Nair smeared across her upper lip. Someone’s sister wanders in while the character is checking out her butt in the mirror and grimacing. Our bodies can be a constant source of conflict, aggravation, and discussion, why can’t they be for our characters?
As people grow and change their look also grows and changes. A girl who was never allowed to wear tank tops grows up, moves away from home, and buys as many tank tops as her poor wallet can stand. People go get new hair styles. Sometimes those hair styles turn out to be awful mistakes. People gain scars, get bloodshot eyes from staying up too late, loose weight, gain weight, buy new clothes. When they do these things, other people notice and comment.RP is born.
You can alert people that your desc has changed with a quick OOC, or you can just make some reference to it in your pose. Most people will have a look at your desc if you indicate a significant change in your pose. This can provide fodder for those opening poses (see Part I).
Everyone should not like your character. A lot of people try to make their character as likeable as possible, hoping it will give them more RP, because they’ll have more friends. In truth, having enemies is better fodder for RP. You don’t want to be utterly friendless, but you don’t have to be Pollyanna, either. Even good, admirable characters should have one flaw or blind spot that pisses others off.
I once played a good, honorable, amiable, polite swordsman. He was also a chivalrous chauvinist. He got irritated when women wanted to learn the sword and tried to discourage them. He didn’t insult them, but he did treat them to long lectures on why they ought to be worrying about raising babies instead of trying to bloody their hands. He was okay with women doing just about anything else, but he hated to see a woman fight. It was thematic, though it was a part of theme that was rarely played, because there were almost more femaleswordspeople on the game than male. He doggedly went on, even going so far as pushing a political platform to get them barred from training. Of course it didn’t go through, but it sure did give people stuff to talk about. It also led his wife to push him into a river in disgust, even if they did make up later.
Eventually one of those female swordswomen saved his life, and he had to revise his stance a little bit. Or so she thought. Instead he merely allowed that she had proven herself worthy of the blade, but that didn’t mean every other little girl should run out to pick up a blade. They became friends though.
That was just one of his flaws: he had an anger management issue, could be deliberately stupid at times, was under confident, and despite being an acknowledged master of the sword who had shown a brilliant tactical mind in training, he nearly wet himself the first time he had to be on a battlefield.
The thing is, you don’t have to deliberately sit down and figure out your flaws or what people are going to hate about your character. You just have to ask yourselves some questions. What pisses your character off? What do they do when they’re sad? Are they blunt to a fault? What do they do if someone is crying? What sort of morals do they have? What do they believe in?People can be disliked for their politics as much as their personality. Do they have any bad habits? What about their background? Did they have a rival? Do they get intimidated or jealous when people are prettier, more accomplished, smarter, better fighters? Are they competent enough but always seem to lack for acknowledgment or love? Are they always playing second fiddle to someone else? Is there some dream they’ve had that has been stymied? Do they hate their jobs? Just because you can chose to give them a new job whenever you want doesn’t mean that they can reasonably run out and get one whenever they want.
Do this and you’ll develop a three dimensional character, and you will express their strengths, flaws, and those times when they don’t quite live up to their own ideals in a natural way. You won’t even have to think about it, you will simply know what your character will do, and it will flow effortlessly from your fingers as you type.
I really love combat scenes. Offer me a good fight and I’ll never turn it down. I tend to play characters who are good in combat, too, with the occasional exception. Maybe you have your favorite type of scene, too. Romance, TS, angst, dark deeds, mysteries, puzzles, taking classes. Whatever your favorite type of scene, you’re going to get a bad reputation if you pursue only that type of scene ever, especially if you have multiple characters who also only pursue that type of scene, ever.
If you do combat exclusively you’ll end up looking like a twink or a PK monster, if its TS you’ll get a reputation as a TS hound, if its dark deeds you might end up with a reputation as a sicko.Even a bad guy has to wash his laundry. You can do a scene around that. If you’re always writhing in angst people are going to think you just want attention and can’t share the spotlight.
You can avoid this by doing what makes sense for your character to do. Your character might be a lusty young lady, but if she’s also a hard working scholar who does some research scenes, people are less likely to label you as a TS hound. You just play a lusty scholar. If you have alts, and one of them is a lusty scholar, one of them is a dried up old prune of a politician who slaps men at the thought that they might be looking at her ankles, and one of them is a warrior who also happens to arrange flowers, then people are just going to think you have a pretty good range of characters. If all you do is run around trying to pounce every single person who logs on (and really, would you do this in life?) then you’re going to get a rep, and that’s that. Anyway, if you’re going to do that, go to one of the games where that’s the norm. Don’t bring it to games looking for serious RP.
In every good story, the main character at the very least undergoes some sort of fundamental change. A cynic learns to love again. A shy man learns to take up the mantle of leadership.The uncertain become confident. A naive person learns to take a little caution. And so forth.Your character should grow and change as a result of her experiences. If she’s naive and gets betrayed, she shouldn’t stay naive forever. If she won’t wear dresses because she thinks she’s ugly but a handsome man falls in love with her and buys her a pretty dress, she might just wear it with a smile. If she holds fast to a belief and then has an experience that challenges that belief to the core, she should RP out struggling with that, grappling with it, until she either changes her belief or comes out the other side with a stronger faith than before.
Characters who remain sort of stupidly cheerful for life are more the norm than not on MU*’s. It is annoying. If you’ve just been kidnapped you’re not going to walk back down to breakfast the day after the rescue acting as if you haven’t missed a beat. (Now if your character is upset but PRETENDS to be okay, that’s different. You should find ways to show it in your RP. Have a normally sure handed character get clumsy, for example, a sure sign of distraction).Characters who have children are going to have different priorities than characters who remain single. Allow your character the breathing room to grow and change naturally.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more annoying to a MU* admin than a player who parks his character in their own private room and then starts complaining that there is no RP to be found.To them I say, “Get real.”
If there are ten people logged on to the game then chances are at least 8 of them are there looking for RP. 2 of them might be there checking mail or chit chatting, but all ten of them at least like to RP and are not going to take it amiss if you page them looking for some. They might turn you down, but they’re not going to bite your head off unless you are a jerk about your request.
Further, you can go park yourself in a public area with a scene set ready to go if anyone should walk into it wanting to play. Why should everyone else do all the work for you?
I’ve heard a variety of silly reasons for why people don’t RP. In this section, I’ll address a few of them - and teach you how to overcome each situation with Sparkle!
My character wouldn’t be at the zoo. (Or the park, the bar, the church, the library, the police station…). I have heard this so often, and it’s so old and so tired. My answer to it is: “Are you sure?”
Use your imagination. Think outside the box. Unless your character is laid up at the hospital or in jail, he can probably physically get to the location, unless it’s in an entirely different city and he has no quick way such as an airplane or magical transport to make it there.
But my character doesn’t like the zoo! He hates animals! He’s said so in RP a dozen times!!
Fine. Here are three possibilities for introducing your zoo-hater into the zoo scene without compromising your character. (We’re back to the entry pose again. That’s because the entry pose really is vital). I’ll use both narrative and actor’s style, long and short, just to demonstrate yet again how truly unimportant the debate is to enjoyable RP.
Caveat: In some situations “everyone” might be at a place it is illegal, dangerous, or impossible for your character to get to. If you are playing a high school student and everyone isRPing over at the Pentagon, then you are right, you can’t get to where everyone is RPing and should not try. The only solution here is to wait for someone to log on who is not at the Pentagon, or perhaps to apply for a character who could be over there next time.
In these examples, where Sue and Steve are used, assume Sue to be another RP’er in the scene. Julie is an NPC.
Example 1: The man in the black hat takes the envelope from Joe. Joe heaves a big sigh, a little color returning to his cheeks. The man in the black hat walks away, trench coat flapping in the wind. A monkey howls nearby and Joe jumps. He crosses his arms and begins to walk away, fast, right toward Sue and Steve.
Example 2: Julie knows damn well that Joe hates the zoo. He hates the smell of the zoo, he hates the sounds of the zoo. He hates animals. He doesn’t even own a fish. Julie was always big on animals, but Joe thinks that she probably chose this spot just to annoy him. Fresh from their breakup, he storms down the walk. Which way was the exit again? He’s approaching Sue and Steve, though he doesn’t even really register who they are.
Example 3: Joe comes racing through the crowds at breakneck speed. “That man stole my wallet!” he howls. Ahead, a punk kid, also running, ducks into the building with the snakes.
Be polite, of course. The nature of the scene you’re about to join should determine what you do to enter, and of course its usually nice to check in with the Zoo people to see if its okay if you join. And you don’t have to indicate why you’re there in the pose! If you are well known to hate the zoo, you can let the others ask what the heck you’re doing there, and can be ready with the answer (or lie). “Julie decided this was a great place to break up with me,” said in a sour tone, can be just as effective. Think about the NPCs in your character’s life, make up a reason, and go to the dang zoo.
Ok, so none of your regular RP group is on right now. So? You didn’t know any of them when you started playing either. RPing with new people keeps you fresh. It provides you with a steady supply of people to RP with if your current group dries up. It happens. Sometimes everyone in a group quits playing, often within months of one another, leaving only a singleRP’er stranded.
Take a moment to play with a newbie. It will probably be annoying, but newbies turn into real live players sooner or later. Will it kill you to spend 20 minutes on them? You can always beg off when you’ve had your fill of bad poses. If you can’t find good RPer’s, raise one.
These people like to hang around until staff hands them a plot or event on a platter. I must admit I sometimes do this when I’m new to a game, because it gives me a chance to get to know my character and ease them in without feeling pressured to put on a good performance, one on one, with a perfect stranger. Nevertheless, there is such a thing as being pro-active.Coming up with a one-session RP event is pretty easy if you think a few things through. Try a few of these on for size, and see if you can come up with your own. I’m going to act as if you don’t know a single soul on the game, and as if anything more bloodthirsty than a snowball fight has to be run by staff, two common MU* complaints.
Page three players who aren’t in scenes and say, “My character’s roof is all messed up.Would you care to say our characters knew one another? Then we can RP a roof repair scene.” Exchange a few background notes and you’re ready to go.
“My character’s new to the neighborhood and hosting a block party. Wanna come?”
Arrange a traffic accident with another player. This will in turn get other RP’ers involved (hospital people, cop people, reporter people).
A MU* is a collective imagination exercise. If you aren’t using yours, but are waiting for others to entertain you, you might as well go watch a movie, play video games, or read a book for your entertainment instead.
##Good MU* Writing Style
Nope, I’m still not going to get into the long vs. short, narrative vs. actor’s style with you, gentle readers. Instead I’m going to examine a few other things that make for good writing style on an online game. Some of these things are not so different from what would make good writing on a solitary exercise such as a short story, or novel. Others are unique to the activity of a collective, shared, experience. We’ll skip decent spelling and grammar; you already knew that one, right?
Ok, I’m going to start off picking on us habitually medium-to-long posers. Sometimes in our zeal to chew up scenery, we put out poses that sound ridiculous. Sometimes we do it for a really long time, too, creating something that takes up an entire screen width. This is not good RP. This is a healthy ego in action. Part of the trick of good writing is, according to my old English professor who got it from somewhere else, to “murder your darlings.” If it’s too clever by half, you should make judicious use of the backspace key and get rid of it.
Action words, actions, emotions, and dialogue, clearly presented, make a good pose. If the character is making an impassioned speech, a page worth of pose might be appropriate. If you’re just trying to show off, quit it. A nice, well placed metaphor is one thing. Line after line of flowery writing isn’t.
The smoke curls up from the ashtray like a cresting wave, before it breaks lightly against the tips of Jane’s fingers, then slips silently out of the window to ride the high silvery winds like an eldritch mist. She tosses curls as golden as ever was offered in Fort Knox, her smile a gentle serpent as it shines upon Joe. Her face is as radiant as the rising sun as she puts her cigarette aside and gets to her feet. She raises an expectant arm pregnant with the possibilities of the moment…
I could go on, but I’m hurting myself too much. I should really go drag out an example from a log somewhere instead of fabricating one, only I don’t tend to RP with people like this long enough to log them. Yes! People actually pose this way! You’re not giving birth to farm animals out there! Three lines on cigarette smoke, Fort Knox hair, a snake mouth and a pregnant arm.Avoid these things.
Cigarette smoke billows around Jane as she takes a long drag. She puts the cigarette aside, rises. She gives a Joe a radiant smile and offers her arm. She tilts her head so that her golden curls shine in the sun, perhaps a deliberate motion on her part. In this moment, the air hums with possibility.
The trick is to be descriptive and evocative without making your reader either burst out laughing or run screaming. Sometimes you can just say that Jane takes a drag on her cigarette without making a literary event out of it. I promise.
Not all pose types are appropriate at all times or with all groups. If you’re in a serious scene it may still be appropriate for your character to crack jokes. But it is not appropriate for the pose to reflect a light mood on your part. Sometimes a cute, quickie pose that’s not even entirely IC isn’t bad. Sometimes you can intersperse your pose with a bunch of dramatic song lyrics…and sometimes that’s going to annoy the piss out of everyone trying to scene with you. Regardless of what your character says, try to write the rest of the pose in a way that reflects the mood.Consider a couple of lines from the movie The Long Kiss Goodnight and how they might have been written as poses. I’ll only be changing up the Old Man’s pose to demonstrate my point.Warning: not vouching for how accurately I remember the exact lines.
Samantha stares out the window of the car as they race away from the hotel. “I just jumped out of a window!” she gasps. “And people just shot at us, and threw a grenade at us!”
The Old Man keeps his eyes on the rear view mirror as he spins the car away from their pursuers. “Yes, it was very exciting,” he snaps. “And tomorrow we’ll go to the zoo.” He spins the wheel again, throwing his passengers to the side as he guns it.
The mood here is tense, action oriented, and suspenseful. Imagine, though, had Old Man chosen to phrase the same actions this way:
“Yes, it was very exciting,” says The Old Man, as he spins the car away from their pursuers.”And tomorrow, we’ll go to the zoo!” Rawr!
Nothing wrong with a well placed Rawr; in a comedic or light-hearted scene it can just make people laugh. If everyone’s having a good time, and the “Rawr” enhances that, then by all means, go for it. But if it’s going to break the mood of the scene…consider carefully and rewrite your pose.
The same, really, goes for short poses over long ones. If you’re in the middle of a huge battle scene, sporting event, or other large scene that the TP people are trying to move along quickly, it is inappropriate to pose at great length. You can still pose quality. You don’t have to restrict yourself to one line. But if one line is all you need, then one line is all you need. It can take a little practice to get the pulse of this accurately, and sometimes it depends on your typing speed. Pace is important. Romantic scenes lend themselves well to long, thought provoking poses, a horse race or a game of Quidditch does not. A sword dual lends itself well to evocative, colorful poses between opponents - but a dungeon crawl style battle where you’re getting swarmed by giant rats and the TP coordinator is trying to deal with 10 people at once does not, and you should stick to simply swinging you sword instead of comparing the swing of your sword to whatever your favorite force of nature is.
Finally, if you know them, you should consider the preferences of the person you’re RPing with.The truly great RPer is style-flexible, so can pose short if the person across from them prefers things short and sweet, can pose long if they like more depth - and, best of all, is a good enough writer not to lose too much either way.
Everyone has a different, natural online “voice”. Its very similar to the “voice” you hear about that all authors get. Some people are cursed with online voices that normally sound very flat and emotionless. They tend to sound a little depressed, rude, or just plain boring. Some people sound whiny, some effervescent, some know it all, some impatient. They may not be these things, but when you talk to them OOCly they invoke these things just the same, and they make an impression. The only way to shape and craft voice is to have your characters doing things, showing emotion, invoking their personality. Yes, what they say does a bit of this, but you should go just a step further. At the very least give your characters a few typical mannerisms that you can throw in there every now and then.
Maybe your character is an emotionless guy. If so, play it up, not down. A lot of us find emotionless people a little intimidating because they can’t get a read on them. Would you deny them the opportunity to properly react to your character by not giving them enough information?
Jane says, “No.”
Well, bully for Jane - but how did she say “No?” To me she just sounds flat and depressed and a little bit of a pain in the ass. Unfortunately, because I don’t see enough of Jane’s character in that irritating little pose, I transfer all of this to the player. If Jane is depressed and flat because that’s the way Jane-the-character is, might I suggest:
Jane lets out a heavy sigh and crosses her arms. “No.”
It’s still a short pose, but it won’t evoke the same sense of froth-at-the-mouth annoyance that the first one will. The first will lead people to complain that you’re not giving them anything to work with, or perhaps that you’re a total newbie who does not know what she’s doing. Who wants that? The second does give the other person something to work with. An emotion! And, still keeping things short, you can give just a little more.
Jane lets out a heavy sigh and crosses her arms. Her tone is flat, dead, as she says, simply, “No.”
Rule of thumb: short is ok. Boring, without enough information, is not.
Writing books advise you to kill all of these. They say you should never breathe when you mean to ask, speak, or reply. You should never use an adverb when an action will suffice. In general, I agree with them. Sometimes it’s okay to have your character growl or grunt their response instead of saying it, but only once or twice, to give people the idea that your character is a taciturn sort who isn’t so sure they enjoy speaking. Adverbs aren’t bad, if your character perhaps speaks “slowly” or “rapidly”, and you’re trying to get that idea across without chewing too much scenery. Still, both of these things are like salt. Use them, er, lightly.
Jane’s hands flutter around as she punctuates each statement. “And then we went to the store!And then I saw the mugger! And then, oh Mary, he pulled out his gun and he aimed it right at me and he fired and then Joe dove into me and we both hit the ground!” Jane takes a deep gulp of air.
Did you figure out that Jane was speaking rapidly in that pose? I didn’t need to say “rapidly” anywhere in there, though. Nor did I even use the “said” tag, or any “said-ism”.
Joe cries, “Sue, watch out!”
There’s a said-ism, cries, but in this case it may be appropriate. If Joe is crying watch out, it may be because he’s in a rapid paced action scene anyway, and anything else would be over-descriptive and chew the scenery. Yet it still evokes the emotions of alarm and urgency that Joe’s player likely would like us to be aware of when he’s taking the time to yell “watch out!” When you write or pose, you’ve got this bucket of tools at your disposal, different ways to convey different things. You want the right tool for the job as often as possible.
And one word…on…elipses. Elipses…are these little…triple dots that I keep…throwing in here in a most annoying…fashion. Folks like to use them as an attempt to show that their character is pausing or speaking slowly. Sometimes they’ll string a whole bunch together like this ……………. in an attempt to show a very long pause.
A proper elipse is exactly three dots and should never be used to create a pause in dialogue unless you’re trailing off the end of a sentence. In anime based games, it might be acceptable to use an elipse as the only dialogue. (Jane-san superdeforms. “…”) to indicate surprise, shock, a lack of anything to say, disgust…well, it all depends on the context, but anime people in an anime game will know how to interpret it. The other appropriate use is to create a suspense break between actions, see below.
Time stops. He’s frozen in midair. Then…
Joe comes crashing down, unconscious.
Rule of thumb: if you’re not sure whether an elipse is appropriate, just avoid them.
Most MUs want you to stick to the present tense when describing what’s going on. This is because things are meant to seem like they’re happening in real time. It also grows out of old tabletop RP, where a Player would announce his actions: “I swing my sword at the orc.” It is disconcerting when people try to use another tense, such as past tense. This is one area where text based RP differs from fiction writing. A fiction writer can use first person past tense, or third person past tense, but never present tense. A MU writer should never, ever use first person and should only use past tense in the unlikely event that he’s demonstrating a flashback.
On the other hand, if you ever do run across a game where everyone is using past tense, do as the Romans do. Don’t be the only person doing something utterly different from the other five or six people in the room. You’re not teaching them anything (such as the style of RP you consider superior), you’re just annoying them and making them wonder why you persist in being different when you can clearly see how things are done in their sandbox.
As for tabs, created by using %t, or breaks, created by using %r, they can be appropriate or inappropriate depending on the situation. Tabs I’m actually pretty neutral on, if you like them, but some people get irritated when you start indenting. %r is fine as long as its clear who is still posing, or is especially useful in emitting NPCs. Again, the trick is to see what those around you prefer and to make use of that. The occasional dramatic use of any technique, where it is clear the technique is meant to call attention to what is going on in a noteworthy, dramatic, and fresh way, usually does not go amiss if only done on occasion.
If you stick to ‘pose’, or, heaven help us, ‘say’, every pose you let out is going to start with your name. If everyone does this, the screen starts to look like some sort of extended roll call.It can make players weary without them ever realizing why. Spice things up a little. Use the emit command, either @emit or \, to start your poses off with action or dialogue. Things don’t constantly start off with character names in a book and they should not when you pose either.
Even one word makes all the difference. Any action verb: sitting, standing, jumping, leaping, growling…makes a fine start to a pose, even if the name comes right after. I actually like the emit command so much that I try not to start with my character’s name except where absolutely necessary.
That said, do include the character’s name somewhere, even in a two person scene where you might believe it should be obvious who is speaking. Why? Because the emit command is often used to introduce NPCs. In books, the convention is that the author will not introduce a new character without specifically letting us know first, but sometimes in MU* things get confusing, rolling up and down the screen. If you’re speaking, let us know somewhere, so we don’t wonder if you decided to emit your sister dropping in.
And this concludes my little series on giving your RP sparkle. Even following one or two of the simple tips found in these articles will improve your RP dramatically. In future articles I want to address things like handling consent, good plot principles, and other fundamentals that will enhance your gaming experience. Until then, I leave you with a quick summary of ways to give your RP sparkle.
Creativity counts. Ask yourself what your character has been doing. Make up reasons to be involved. Don’t wait for others to take you by the hand. Don’t play the same sorts of scenes over and over.
Originality counts. Don’t make a character that’s just like every other character on the grid. Go out of your way to make the type of character that nobody else has made but is desperately needed.
Being “real” counts. Know your character’s flaws and struggles intimately. Bring them into the game.
Being interesting counts. Make them ask why you are doing something. Make them ask what you are doing. Give people a reason to talk to you.
Clarity counts. Don’t worry about pose length - worry about how clear, interesting, and evocative your pose is. The rest will take care of itself.
Consideration counts. Be the guy who knows the preferences of those around him and goes out of his way to provide a good experience for others. Then they will seek you out and try to make sure that you, also, are having fun. Take the time to seek out new players from time to time.