The difference between writing and role playing

Here’s an item that plagues my club. What is the difference between writing fanfiction and role playing?

The truth is, the difference isn’t always a big one. I wish it were bigger.

Role playing is the act of putting yourself into a character’s shoes, becoming that character and letting your identity mingle with that character. At least, that is what I believe. You can do this Dungeons & Dragons style, at the risk of accidentally calling your spouse “Zorg” over dinner some night, but you can also do this through writing, where I suppose the risk is signing a letter to your spouse with “Love Anastasia, Queen of Lovebegone.”

Using writing as a method of role play is simply a matter of writing out actions in “real” time. One common way to do this is in a chat room, where all involved characters interact. One writer usually functions as the proverbial “dungeon master,” handling changes of scenery or non-character based interactions. (“And suddenly it begins to rain, and poodles form on the ground. Before you can figure out why, they are running around and nipping at your ankles.”) Everyone else responds as if they are there in the moment. (“Lulubelle screams and falls over as one particularly vicious poodle clamps onto the hem of her dress and rips it clean off.”)

Writing in present tense is also fairly common (if not a rule) for role playing through writing. If you are in the moment, you’re reporting events as they happen, like a sportscaster, rather than describing the way they went, like the commentators at the post game. It’s fast, it’s exciting, and often, no one cares exactly what happened after it’s done. What matters is the moment.

How about writing fanfiction? We of the fanfiction world have delusions of grandeur. We think of ourselves as authors, we care about our characters in a whole different (and probably baffling) way. Our plots are lengthy. We just concluded one plot which had been brewing since late 2004. Our characters are deep. If you want to know why Renaldo hates women, read his story dated 1/13/1987. What matters to us? The story. If you read my stories, I want you to forget for a moment that I wasn’t the inventor of the premise. I want my characters and my plots to be so intriguing you will read what I wrote because it pulls you in.

So why is this a plague upon my club?

I mentioned once that we have about 40 active members in the club. Of those, 25 are solid members, and the other 15 are either coming or going. Why so many in transition? There are at least a bazillion members of Pern Fandom out there. I would say the majority belong to the Role Playing crowd. I’m going to generalize and say that folks who enjoy that type of interaction tend to have shorter attention spans. They often belong to several different clubs (if there are a bazillion members of Fandom, there are at least half a bazillion clubs) and have countless dozens of characters.

And so when they get bored and start looking for something new, sometimes they find us. We love new members. The more the merrier. Clubs stagnate if they never get new members. But if a member doesn’t fit a club…

The other downside to the anonymity of the internet is that people aren’t afraid to get ugly when things don’t go their way. I think we’re a particularly pleasant bunch at my club, but we still have really rotten results with members sometimes. We did everything we could, and they just didn’t tack on. It’s okay – we’re better off without them anyway.

But what about the ones who want to follow our rules but just can’t break old habits? I suppose it’s gratifying to know they like us so much they want to make the effort. But come on, guys. How tough can it be to remember to say “we went to the party last night” instead of “we go to the party?” It’s weird! No one even talks like that..


3 thoughts on “The difference between writing and role playing

  1. I think an important difference is that with role-playing you’re only concerned with developing your character in response to the “world” they are a part of. That world is generally a collaboration of everyone involved or the “dungeon master.”

    With fan fiction you’re concerned with every aspect of that universe and all the characters in it.

    Also, I want to make a joke about LARPing but my faculties are still partly asleep.

  2. LARP! That’s what that’s called. I remember now. I love that. Good noise. Like AARP. LARP LARP! According to Dave Barry, the sound one makes immediately before dying. LARP!

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