This article was written for us by Marcela De Vivo. It mentions tabletop RPGs throughout, but applies also to play-by-post roleplay.
Daring swordfights, fantastical adventures and questing, oh my! For the creative, innovative and artistically inclined, these things tend to magically drag us into turning our world upside down– making the impossible possible. And what better way to test our imagination than with a friendly (or not-so-friendly) enticing roleplaying game?
Having to mentally create places, characters, scenarios and even outcomes, is an exercise that forces your mind to work overtime without any visual or textual aid. It’s essentially one of the most basic ways to jog your imagination.
If you think about how that relates to writing, the correlation is fairly obvious, which is exactly why any writer should play (or at least attempt to play) an RPG. So, get your reliable D20, have a character sheet handy and a player’s handbook open. Did I lose you already? Okay, okay– let’s start with a blank page in your notebook and a pencil to get started.
Imagining a world, characters and a story surrounding them is all that’s happening when a writer sits down to create a unique piece of fictional literature. In fact, that is creative writing. When people are playing an RPG, there’s usually a lot of writing going on during the game, while players jot down notes about their character and the situations they’re creating.
It gives us some perspective for how a writer can improve their writing and work the creativity muscles in their brain.
It’ll give you a place to start and when you get the hang of it, consider these tips for expanding on what you come up with and further developing your skills as a creative writer.
Tips for Developing Creative Writing Skills
1. Short Exercises for Stretching Writing Muscles
Once I come up with a character, write down the “stats” of that character, whatever they may be (age, eye color, height, race, class, personality, abilities/spells, strengths and weaknesses– you name it). These will all help you better identify yourself with your character, which will make it easier for you to determine where you want to go with him/her.
Once you’ve done that, a good short exercise would be to take that character on a walk somewhere:
- Where do they go? The forest, a cave– a haunted house?
- How do they get there? Riding bareback on a horse, flying, driving, walking?
- What do they see? A crowded tavern, treasure chest– trolls? Gasp!
- How do they feel? Scared, confident, edgy?
Think of each question as a quick exercises to jog your own creative muscle and build your story. As a GM, I often gather my characters up all in one place to begin their story, which is usually in an old, worn-down tavern full of drunken and feisty dwarves. I describe what the tavern looks like, shady NPCs to take note of and other things the players can use to develop their individual characters.
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2. For writer’s block, jot down basic observations.
This one is pretty easy– well, maybe not. Whenever I have writer’s block, I turn to my trusty notebook and jot down whatever thoughts and observations pop into my head. I describe the places around me or places that I picture in my mind, and the situations that could theoretically arise. I also write down my own feelings and emotions as I process those hypothetical events. Find some way to connect your characters with each other, however far-fetched it may be. After all, this is your story. You can do whatever you want!
I remember running a campaign a few months ago, and being the “nice” GM that I am, I allowed one of my main NPCs to die, leaving me in a tough situation. Where does the story go from here? I thought to myself. What else was there to do but create another better, stronger character? A son looking to avenge the death of his father? Why not!
My point is, there is inspiration everywhere. And if you can hold on to that, writer’s block will certainly lose the battle each time.
3. Write during the time of day when you are most creative.
Some people are at their best right when they wake up, while others do a better job of focusing and getting work done in the evenings. Figure out what kind of schedule works best for you and do your writing then.
For me, I tend to find that I’m most inspired the most in the evening, when all is quiet and I’m away from all the chaos at work, and my imagination is free to wander about where it pleases.
4. Don’t be afraid of not getting it right.
They’re called rough drafts for a reason.
Don’t worry about not getting everything perfect the first time, but just get your thoughts down so that you have something to go back and work on later. A rough draft can be a simple skeleton or foundation that at least gives you pieces to work with. While it is a bit of extra work to get an outline sorted, it will help you out a lot in the long run, especially if that writer’s block creeps its way in.
As a GM, it’s up to me to create the world my players will immerse themselves in, and half of the battle is knowing what they want. It’s tough to please everyone, so if one particular campaign that involves hunting trolls doesn’t fly so well with them, then, well, I have to cross that off the list for future games.
The same goes for writing– if you’re having trouble with a particular chapter or even one specific scene, there is no law saying you can’t change it.
5. Enjoy what you do.
Writing is a brain intensive activity that requires a lot of focus, but make sure that it doesn’t become such a chore and mundane task that you stop enjoying it. Take breaks, work on other projects and then come back to your writing if you have to.
In the instance of running a campaign, I tend to stretch them out over several weeks, maybe even months depending on how involved it is. Not only does this give me time to think of where the story will go, but it also allows the players time to figure out the story and how their characters will evolve. Trying to fit the entire adventure in one night can cause the process to become stressful and sometimes even uninteresting, which can quickly take the fun out of the game for everyone, no matter how much they love roleplaying.
Whether it’s RPGs or your own creative writing, do whatever it takes to have fun during the process, especially if it’s something you’re passionate about.
Learning from RPGs
As a writer, I am always looking to improve upon my own imagination, and have found that roleplaying plays a big part in it. Whether I’m creating a new world for my players or need to come up with some kind of game that will distract my kids from bickering, the tactics I’ve mentioned here truly do me a lot of good when it comes to tapping into that creativity.
Creativity is both a natural gift and a muscle that we need to use and work in order to improve. Even the most gifted people still need to use those gifts and improve on them, and creative writing is no different.
Article written by Marcela De Vivo.
Marcela De Vivo is a freelance writer and mother of three living in Southern California. In collaboration with HostPapa, she has the opportunity to share her knowledge on online gaming, including RPGs, as well as all things tech. With three little ones of her own, her mind is always challenged to come up with innovative ways to inspire their own creativity.