From Roleplayer to Writer

This article is by Jedi Knight Muse (Ally).

Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve loved using my imagination. It didn’t matter if I was just playing pretend with my friends or playing by myself. I remember standing in my kitchen one night and telling my parents that I was Dorothy Gail (from Wizard of Oz) and they were Uncle Henry and Auntie Em. This is probably one of my earliest memories of using my imagination.

The moment I think my writing journey really began was when I just sat at my family computer one day and started typing. I was probably in the third grade at the time, and I was playing a game with my neighbor who was a few years younger than me. We pretended we were sisters named Alex and Samantha (I imagine that I chose the name Samantha because I had the American Girl doll of the same name) who were being chased after by the Sanderson Sisters, characters from my most favorite Halloween movie, Hocus Pocus. Eventually, I ended up writing a script with these characters. I didn’t write the script because I intended to act it out or anything, I just sat down and started to write.

When I was in fifth grade, two girls in my class introduced me to Star Wars one day at recess. I went home and rented one of the movies and I fell in love. That love is what got me to start writing about Star Wars, though I don’t remember making a conscious decision to do so.

At this point, I was still in love with the movie Hocus Pocus, and I created a character based off that movie – she even had the same name as one of the characters. I made her into a Star Wars character – sort of. This was the first time I really started writing fan fiction, even though I didn’t know that was the term for it at the time. I wrote a number of different scripts and stories using this character, and even inserted her into different fictional places I’d seen in movies, such as Oz and Camelot (the Quest for Camelot version), sort of creating my own version of crossover fan fiction. I was convinced that I would go out to Hollywood and get to write, direct, and act in all of these movies that I was writing these scripts for.

When I was around eleven years old, I began my first novel (or rather, the closest thing to a novel I could have written at that age) in a computer program my parents had bought me called Storybook Weaver Deluxe. Again, I wrote about my version of Star Wars characters. It was four-hundred pages of utter crap, but at the time I didn’t know it and wouldn’t have even cared if I did. I just wanted to write!

How Roleplaying Has Helped My Writing

As I got older, I kept writing my stories and my scripts. Then, I eventually discovered the Star Wars section of Yahoo chat rooms. On a hot summer day, I was using my aunt and uncle’s computer while visiting them in New York,, and I remember following someone into a custom chat room he’d created called Jedi Falls. This is where I was introduced to roleplaying. I learned how to create a character and use that character to interact with other roleplayers that co-write a story.

Back then, I was what was commonly called a n00b – that is, someone who had no idea what they were doing as a roleplayer. Someone who was breaking all sorts of roleplaying 101 rules. But I didn’t care – I was talking to other people who loved Star Wars, I was using my character from those stories and scripts, and I was feeling a little less lonely. While my character was -whispers- a Mary-Sue for sure, and I crossed the line between being out of character and in character for a good while, I had fun with my roleplaying friends.

Eventually, Yahoo chat went to crap and I moved on to roleplaying one-on-one in Instant Messenger. This was back when I wasn’t working much or at all and I had the drive to spend all day waiting for someone to come online so we could roleplay. One of the first roleplays I remember doing was a fantasy roleplay with a princess who was hiding her forbidden romance with the captain of the guard. I ended up writing my own solo story version of this role play. After that I remember starting a story on my own about a different princess and her twin brother with special magic abilities; later a friend and I expanded on it through role playing for about a year or two. These were the roleplays that I think really started to push me further towards writing fantasy.

While I was roleplaying in chat rooms and on Instant Messenger, I was also writing fan fiction. Fan fiction can be such a controversial subject among writers, and in fact there are some published, famous authors who don’t allow it, but honestly I think there are many authors out there who might not be where they are today without having written fan fiction at some point in their lives. Of course, in my case, I was usually using my own “original” characters, such as my character Dani, but they were interacting with characters who were usually part of the Star Wars universe.

While I no longer focus on writing fanfiction and have also sort of “retired” from forum roleplaying, I don’t think I would be where I am today with my writing if it weren’t for the ~seventeen years I’ve spent in chat rooms and on message boards, creating my own characters for fantasy and Star Wars settings. I was essentially co-writing stories with other people from all over the world. My years spent as a roleplayer have helped me understand how to become more aware of plots, characterization, and world building and the rules to follow, rather than just writing whatever came to me without caring if it makes sense.

Roleplaying is another form of writing that allows us, as writers, to interact with other writers. This leads us to further character development, and collaboration on world building when using an original setting. The other roleplayers I’ve met have taught me a lot about my writing strengths and weaknesses and how to improve upon them. Some of them have become really good friends, and are also fellow writers whom I have writing brainstorming sessions with.

I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without having taken part in those roleplays and interacting with my fellow roleplayers. I still look back on the printed transcripts from some of my favorite role plays – such as the one about the twins – and read my posts and laugh at how awful some of them were but smile at the fact that I’ve come so far as a writer and roleplayer. Who knows whether or not I’d be writing fantasy if I hadn’t started writing my first real fantasy story as a sophomore in high school? Maybe I’d still be writing Star Wars fan fiction!

My Real Writing Passion

After spending ~seventeen years roleplaying, I’ve gradually moved further away from it and have been focusing more on what my real writing passion has been: novel writing.

I have a confession to make: excluding the Star Wars fan fiction novel I mentioned earlier, I have never finished a novel of my own. I come up with ideas all the time – in fact, I have idea journals where I write down ideas for plots, characters, bits of dialogue, names and whatever else I can think of. I started doing this several years ago, so sadly it’s not something I’ve always done, but it’s really helped me. When I need a name for a character, I flip through my idea journals and see what I can find that I think will fit.

A lot of the time, I will start on a project, focus on trying to figure out the plot and aspects of the world . . .  and then I either hit a wall because I’ve gotten myself stuck on something or I’ll get a new idea for a new project and decide to work on that instead and never go back to the project I was originally working on. It’s a frustrating process that I hope I’ll grow out of eventually, and in a way I’m starting to already. I’ve probably gotten several ideas in the last year for something new, but instead of starting to write them, I’ve just written them into my idea journal for future use and have kept going. Because of that, I’ve been working on a project for over a year that I’m really enjoying writing. I’ve been able to focus more on the project for the most part, even with distractions such as work and school.

For Further Thought

What about you? Are you a roleplayer? How has roleplaying helped to shape your writing?

If you’re not a roleplayer, is there some other activity that has helped you become the writer you are today?

About the Author:

Ally, also known as Jedi Knight Muse, is a member of the Mythic Scribes fantasy forum. She has been writing fantasy stories of some degree for as long as she can remember, and hopes to one day self-publish her writing. Ally is also the administrator and creator of another fantasy writers forum called Worldsmyths.

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3 years ago

I really enjoyed my online role playing years, though certainly not as many as you! I started Mar 1999 and many story lines were wrapping up by mid 2002. Players went their own ways, though many of us keep in touch through FB, & a few have become published.

I shudder a bit as I read those early months, but can see my progress as I move through it. I am exploring the possibilities, trying to determine if a book is in order, or shorts or novellas might be better. There are some characters who disappeared entirely; and others who drifted away, but pop up later with significant affect to those concerned.

But while I decide I am having great fun in reading what we did! Thanks for sharing your experience.

David Michael Williams
3 years ago

The closest I’ve ever come to writing fan fiction is a “G.I. Joe” play I tried to pen back in elementary school. After that, I was more interested in coming up with my own characters. At first, they were similar types to those found in that franchise; I think my earliest reference to them was “G.I. Joe: The Next Generation” (groan).

But eventually, they developed their own unique terrorist-fighting identity, which — once I became enamored with superheroes — evolved into a smaller team called The Ultimate Crusaders.

Eventually, as my interests shifted, I became a fantasy world-builder. I didn’t play tabletop RPGs (I just didn’t know anyone who did), but as my kids are getting older, there’s a part of me that thinks it would be fun to write some modules based off of my world of Altaerra — the setting for my sword-and-sorcery trilogy, The Renegade Chronicles.

As for writing tips, I typically say this to those struggling to complete a manuscript: outlines are a godsend; you can’t get lost if you have a road map, right? And even though you will have to go back and fix things later, it’s far preferable to have a very rough first draft than a perfect partial draft.

Check out my website for other writing tips:

Good luck!

Jedi Knight Muse
Reply to  David Michael Williams
3 years ago

I’ve wanted to try LARP and tabletop role playing, but I don’t know anyone who does it, either. Although there’s apparently some kind of a camp or something that’s basically specifically for LARPing that sounds kind of fun. But I don’t know if I’d be gutsy enough to go and try it (by myself).

What’s crazy about this article is that when I wrote it, I hadn’t actually finished a manuscript draft, but now that’s no longer true. I finished my first draft last week! Having an outline (which I usually always do, because I’m really not a pantser writer. I used to be, when I was younger like the article said, but these days I usually can’t start on a novel without an outline). But the other thing that really helped was when I got stuck on things, I would just skip over it and keep writing it, and then I went back and filled in the gaps for the stuff that I had skipped over and then…boom, finished! It’s a 22k novella and needs some work but I’m really proud of it.

Mark Engels
3 years ago

WOW. Thank you so much for writing this article. Roll back the clock a few years to tabletop RPGs and anime/manga Usenet forums and your story could well have been my own. Please stay the course! I progressed from role-playing to writing anime/manga fanfiction to now being a published author myself. My debut novel just came out, a paranormal sci-fi thriller called ALWAYS GRAY IN WINTER from Thurston Howl Publications, first in a werecat family saga series. So it *can* be done!

My own writing motivations/influences and details of my publishing journey were recently the focus of several interviews, including this one from Operation Awesome:

In it I give mad phat props to RPGers and fanfiction writers. Hope you might draw some inspiration or other encouragement from it. Thanks for keepin’ it real in your article. Be glad to help you and your fellow Worldsmyths as best I can.


Jedi Knight Muse
Reply to  Mark Engels
3 years ago

You’re welcome!

I think I’m doing a pretty good job of staying the course. I just finished my first draft of the 22k novella (wasn’t intended to be a -novella- compared to a -novel- but hey, I’ll take it) last week. So now I’m taking a break from that so that I can come up with something new to write for NaNo and then I’ll go back to that draft in like…5+ months or so.

That’s cool that you ended up being features in some interviews! I’ll definitely check it out.

R Snyder
R Snyder
3 years ago

I enjoyed your article, Ally. In particular, I was impressed by your voice. I think you come across in a real, natural way, and that you express yourself very well. That should migrate over to your writing, I think. You should be writing.

I’m too old to have had some of the writing opportunities and experiences that you’ve had, busy with career marriage and kids. My writing comes from my parents listening to Broadway musicals downstairs while I was falling asleep, and having been a life-long reader and watcher of movies. I remember waiting in line to see Star Wars when it opened and left the theater feeling jazzed, like everyone else, having just seen something heroic and wildly different.

Anyway, I think that you should pick a story and fall in love with it and get writing. If you don’t have something like that, a story you love, then craft one out of all your favorite stories. Then commit to it and put that voice to work. I’d like to read what you come up with.

Joy Pixley
3 years ago

Great article, and one that I can relate to. I was a RPGer back in the day too, and then was the DM for a long-running D&D game. Being a sociologist, the settings, religions, rules, etc. of the standard D&D books struck me as ridiculously unrealistic, so I rethought *everything*. After the gaming group eventually broke up, I couldn’t tear myself away from the world-building, so as an excuse (ha ha), now I write stories based in that world — short stories, flash fiction (which I post on my blog), and a novel in progress. Role playing is a great way to stoke the imagination, I totally agree!

Jedi Knight Muse
Reply to  Joy Pixley
3 years ago

Thank you. 🙂

Melody Daggerhart
3 years ago

Well, this is an article that touched my heart and soul. 🙂 I got my start using fan fictions and role-playing games, and now have 4 published novels (and more on the way) in my own world setting with my own characters, many of whom were developed while writing fan fictions and role playing. I went from player to DM with role-playing games, starting with regular D&D and forums, moving to PC, then Elder Scrolls, and then anything that hit my fancy. I’m still a huge gaming fan. Role playing has shaped my writing in terms of world building, from very small details like what kind of currency is used, all the way up to major plot threads like … if three factions are at war and none of them are 100% good, how do the characters decide which group to side with? And from each of those three factions, who will betray and stab your characters in the back? As DM, it also gave me experience fishing players for whatever drew them into the story. Mostly this meant giving every single player character some kind of personal challenge, as well as the group challenge to see if they could work as a team. I tried very hard to run a game where there were no back-seat players. If someone grew silent, I threw something at them based on their background sheets … or sometimes just something big … like trolls deciding they want a new pet. 🙂 … As a result, most of my character in my books have very detailed backgrounds that could stand alone as books in their own rights. So, learning to treat each minor character as a major resource, and learning how to connect the dots of plot materials, was a big takeaway from gaming experiences, as well as learning how to keep the pace of interest going. Something always has to push the story forward. Unassuming, little things can mean a lot later down the road.

From fan fictions, I learned prose and writing style. It was the bridge between what I experienced in the game as a player or DM and what I relayed to my players or readers. If one of my characters had a nasty fight with a giant spider in a game, I would relive every glorious moment of that challenge through the character’s eyes when I started typing. I can add things as I like. I can remove things as I like. And I can change whatever it takes to bring that scene and those characters to life for others the way I enjoyed it during my game. It also led to me take notes on things beyond games. So that I could hear about folklore, see a picture, or catch something in passing conversation that was noteworthy enough to include or relate to my story. Now, nothing is “safe” around me. 🙂 I can turn anything into a story.

Both experiences helped me hone my skills for “getting into character” while writing dialog, expressions, body gestures, even atmosphere of setting. Because when I game, though I am on the receiving end of the experience, I make myself say, “What would he/she do in this situation?” And that makes me, the author, step back to let the character’s personality, skills, weaknesses, etc. come forward. This is also why I am ashamed to admit I have 20+ characters in each game I play. LoL … They are my paper dolls, my trial runs for successes and failures, my choreographer dummies for fights, my field tests for character ethics, my pools to build character history and experience, etc. And then I write it down loosely based on the game (fan fiction), but then rethink it and make it fit into my own world with my own twists and details, changing whatever I feel needs changing to make it uniquely mine. Its helps to play games from lots of “universes”. It helps to blend them with novels, movies, TV shows, folklore … especially folklore! Best writing advice I ever took to heart was don’t copy the masters, go to what inspired the masters. So, if you want to find out what you can or cannot write about dark elves, look up folklore on dark elves. Folklore is what inspired Tolkien. Tolkien inspired D&D. D&D inspired Elder Scrolls. And on and on it will continue. I consider games and fan fiction to be two of many tools for inspiration. 🙂 They’re important to me because they helped me develop the imagination and writing skills that I have today.

And I think you’re right that every good writer has at some point practiced with fan fiction, even if only role playing Wonder Woman or Spiderman as a child. It also helps to remember that long-running series like Star Trek, Forgotten Realms, Doctor Who, etc. have multiple writers with their own interpretations of derivative works, so they are, in fact, professional fan fiction writers. In some cases, it’s ghost writers (Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, etc.) But in some cases well-known authors are excited to gain a chance to write for the fandoms they grew up with and love (Gaiman, Salvador, etc.) The difference is they have legal permissions and get paid to be as professional as possible in keeping as close as possible to the original setting and characters. Then their work is included as canon for that fandom’s continuing history. I once worked for Wizards of the Coast as a data base consultant for an in-house publishing project that was like an encyclopedia so that the many authors writing for each game world could keep their works as consistent as possible. It’s hard to be consistent with other people’s work when recreating it! It’s difficult enough just referencing my own previous works, never mind being aware of and consistent with what other authors have written for huge collections of previously published books and games!

Anyway, sorry for the ramble, but as I said, this touched something deep in me. 😉 Best of luck to you finding your way. Have fun with it. Everything is fodder for fiction. … Everything.

Jedi Knight Muse
Reply to  Melody Daggerhart
3 years ago

Rambling is totally fine! 🙂 I loved reading about your experiences, and I’m glad the article touched you so much. I think a lot of people don’t think a lot about how role playing can effect the way someone writes, because a lot of people (myself included) separate the two in their minds. Like for me, I could create a character for a novel, but for me to try and role play them…that would be really tough, I think. And the same goes the other way- one of my first NaNos was based on a role play I ran on Livejournal back in its heyday, but rather than create my own plot, I was basically taking the transcripts and putting them into story format, which wasn’t really the greatest thing to do for a few reasons. I wouldn’t be able to take a role play character and try to stick it into a novel, especially if the role play character was fairly developed. The two are just too separate in my mind.

Glad you enjoyed the article! And I hope you’ll check Worldsmyths out. 🙂

Melody Daggerhart
Reply to  Jedi Knight Muse
3 years ago

LoL … That’s interesting because I can’t separate them. In fact, I make a point of putting my primary, secondary, and even a few tertiary novel characters into various games to make myself think, “What would *they* do?” It’s very challenging to, say, have a non-magical character and actually resist using any magic that is available in the game (unless it’s absolutely needed to progress in the quest for technical reasons). … Anyway, yes, I will definitely check out Worldsmyths. 🙂

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