My Approach to Roleplay, The Story and the Story | Tale of Banners Roleplaying Community Forum

My Approach to Roleplay, The Story and the Story


Application Team
Staff member
Application Team
Jan 3, 2016
The Story and the Story

When we roleplay we do it to have fun, it’s not something that you have to be good at because we’re not up on stage performing to an audience. But, roleplay is something we can get better at, because we can make our roleplay more fun for the people around us and we can learn to enjoy it more ourselves. That’s why I’m writing about my approach to roleplay, so that anyone on the server who wants to improve their roleplay has some help in doing that.

To start off with, it’s good to know what roleplay is beyond the definitions given in our whitelist applications. What is it about roleplaying together that we enjoy? There’s a few different reasons, some of which are more relevant for different people, but I think one of the main ones is that we enjoy telling stories. We enjoy telling the story of our character, and we enjoy weaving that story together with the stories of other characters, so that together we can make greater stories. On a roleplay server like this, we weave so many character stories together that the full story of the world is too complex for anyone to know all of it. But, the parts of this story that each of us sees are things we might remember for years, because of all the stories happening in the background to make the stories we see seem all the more real.

Viewing our roleplay as working together to make stories can help us know how to understand the roleplay in which we’re taking part. Most of us know about suspension of disbelief, which we need if we want to imagine our stories taking place in a non-cubic world, but there’s something which further than suspension of disbelief and which will help us enjoy our roleplay more.

When we experience any story told in any form, we don’t actually see every detail of the full story. We learn how to fill in the gaps and how to know what assumptions we should make to get the most out of the story. As an example, let’s look at how we fill in gaps in TV/movies and in books.

There’s lots of techniques used in TV and film to tell the audience what’s happening without having to stop and explain, the most obvious being cuts. We’ve learnt that when there’s a cut in a film, that might mean some time has passed. If we see someone walking out a door, then it cuts to them entering a new place, we know to assume that they’ve spent time travelling from A to B. We can even recognise when transitions which happen without a cut are meant to show the passage of time off-screen. These are examples of ways in which we’ve learnt to fill in the gaps, so that the film or TV show can show us the most interesting parts of the story while we fill in the rest to make the story cohesive.

Similarly, in almost all forms of media, but particularly in books, we all understand that we don’t get to see the characters in every moment of their lives. That means that we don’t get to see all the little bits of progress that character makes, and so we’re fine with seeing characters develop in bursts during significant parts of the story. Characters can change off-screen, but usually we are shown how they are changing, even if that means they experience their life-changing revelations in the action rather than slowly realising things afterwards. And conversations are almost always shorter in books than they would be in real life, simply because we don’t want to spend hours reading a deep conversation between two characters. We read a condensed version, and understand that the conversation we read in ten minutes represents hours of bonding between these characters.

The ways in which we fill in the gaps varies from medium to medium, but in each type of media there is some understanding that the story we are told and the story that forms in our head are different. Conversations are lengthened, off-screen time is filled in, and character revelations are spread out over part of a character’s life, rather than all happening in the one scene in which they are shown. There’s the story, and then there’s the story.

When we’re walking around on the map and writing in chat and on the forums, we’re telling the first story. But, when we’re telling that story, we should remember that our aim is to help people make the second story in their head. We want our roleplay to contribute to the story each person with whom we’re roleplaying is writing in their head. This means that when we’re roleplaying, our characters aren’t going to act exactly like a real person would in their situation.

Let me explain. Edgy characters who don’t want to interact with others are very hard to convey in roleplay. In a book, we can read their inner thoughts. But when we’re all roleplaying together, the character who acts like a real loner doesn’t actually get across the nuance of that character’s edginess. They just come across as edgy and stereotypical. However, if the edgy character is actually more willing to talk to others, even if they interact with people in ways that always show that they don’t like talking to others, then the character is actually getting a chance to tell a story. And that means they can contribute to the second story, everyone around can understand enough about this edgy character to fit them into how they imagine the world.

In general, all characters are going to be modified in similar ways to the edgy character described above. Most of the time, our characters should be much more willing to interact with others, to provide more opportunities to tell the first story; and should be much faster to reveal what they are like as a person, to provide fuel for the second story. People won’t learn what your character is like if they only interact with them a handful of times and your character acts the way real people act in the first few conversations. And when we’re roleplaying with others, we can use our suspension of disbelief to not find it weird that all our characters are more open than normal people, because that openness is helping us imagine that second story.

When we’re roleplaying together, there’s going to be a lot of things about the first story, the one we’re telling each other, which aren’t executed very well, feel a bit disjointed, or happen faster than would make sense in real life. It is our responsibility to be the editor for the second story, the one in our head, to make the conversations flow more smoothly when we remember them, and to imagine what’s happened off-screen to lead up to any event which seems to be happening quite suddenly. Also, the story in your head can be retold to other people, this isn’t something where each of us is isolated in our interpretations of what happened in the roleplay.

I’d be interested to read any feedback or discussion, if people have actually found this helpful please tell me so I know whether it would be worth writing more advice.
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Jul 18, 2018
United States, Eastern
Absolutely astounding advice! Thanks for this, it was very good to read and think about! I neglect that "second story" in favor of the first much too often, so that really has given me something to chew on!