Rogue Ink

May 30, 2008

Roleplaying for Writers, Or Why It’s Cool to Geek Out.

I have a confession for everyone. I was such an outcast in high school, I had to beg other outcasts to teach me Dungeons & Dragons. Their geekiness had advanced to such a state of cool that the circle was pretty exclusive, and they’d been playing for a long time anyway, and besides, the last girl they’d taught to play had wound up scalping her first kill and stitching a hat out of the skin.

I did learn. I played a bit. And I discovered a secret that I have just uncovered again, playing Escaping Reality, a creative writing role-playing game which the good Men with Pens have just created.

Roleplaying is good for writers.

Hah, say you. Yes, I’m sure that many fantasy writers had their start in role-playing. Adorable. You’re supposed to be a businesswoman, dude. (Side note: Businesswoman Dude is the title I want on my business cards.) Why are we screwing around with barbarian dwarves and psionic magicians?

And I say unto you: HOW CAN WE RESIST?

Also, it’s useful to copywriting. Really it is. Roleplaying hones a huge number of skills that are useful to copywriters, and to PROVE TO YOU THAT MY GEEKINESS HAS PURPOSE, I shall cite some of those reasons for you.


Finding a voice.

We talked about finding your client’s voice some while ago, and I’m not going to recap, because I have learned to hate the recap since TV shows started to come out on DVD. You would think that a logical place to allow your ‘skip to the next scene’ button to do its thing would be RIGHT AFTER the recap. But NO. They skip right to the middle of the next scene, when the new story begins, and then you either have to watch the recap of the story you JUST SAW, or miss part of the scene, or learn to fast forward on your DVD player, and there is only so much time in the day. Recaps, therefore, are evil. Finding your client’s voice is a good idea. If you’ve forgotten just why, you should go check out that episode again. It was a good one. Trust me.

Finding a voice is what roleplaying is all about. You have a character, and your character needs to think and talk and swear, and you need to know what all of that sounds like. You can’t give your character a voice until you know who your character is. Male or female? Large or small? Confident or shy? Quiet or brash? You need to know who this person is, or his voice won’t match. Try giving a woman’s voice to a male character sometime. It won’t work. Or it will, but not the way you wanted it to. Your male character will be ordering the pink frilly drinks in the bar, and that is going to get awkward right quick.

Likewise, you need to know who your client is in copywriting in order to find their voice. You need to know who they are and what they’re about, or the voice in which you’re writing will come out wrong. If the atmosphere your client projects is fun, young, and enthusiastic, giving them the voice of a forty-year-old accountant simply will not fly. No one will believe you, and the client will feel a little humiliated and betrayed, which is never the reaction you’re going for, but seriously, imagine how you’d feel if someone gave you the voice of your Aunt Esther. You’d be pissed. That’s how it works.

Getting rid of cliches.

Cliches in fantasy games are no fun. Cliched characters are boring. They make everyone else playing want to stab your character while he sleeps. Actually, if everyone else in your party attempts to murder your character for no apparent reason, there’s pretty good odds your character is Legolas with, oh, different colored eyes, or something. Ditto for creating a situation that’s so common as to be annoying.

Really? I’m going to go and avenge my dead parents by killing an overlord who is the epitome of all that is evil? I personally cannot think of at least five major films/books/plays/interpretive dances that follow that storyline. This may have something to do with the fact that I live in a cave. Tra-la!

It’s annoying, and no one wants to play it, because they know how this one ends already. THIS, by the way, is why guys hate chick flicks. It’s not that they’re about love. It’s that they’re all identical. He’s seen this one before. He’d rather go roll a half-orc with hydrophobia.

Cliches in copywriting are equally annoying. Actually, cliches in copywriting are more annoying, because they don’t come with dragons and treasure. There is no upside to the writing cliche. It is pure scribbled annoyance. On a stick.

“Ever wish you had a solution to that problem we all have? Then have I got a product for you!”

Shoot me now. Make me play Harry Potter through all seven books. I can bear that, but I cannot bear “the best just got better” one more time. I need some magic tricks to make it worth my while. Even that stupid light-trick.

Thinking on your feet.

In a good roleplaying game, your character will constantly encounter new situations. You won’t be certain how you ought to deal with the situation. You’ve never seen this situation before. (This is because we took all the cliches out back and had them shot. You’re welcome.) Instead, you have to put yourself in your character’s shoes and think quickly to determine how best to react. If you do it well, your character both survives and is believable. If you do it badly, your character is mauled and everyone hates him. Totally up to you, but I know which side of the cat my bacon is taped to.

Copywriters are constantly asked to write about products, people, or philosophies that they’ve never before encountered. I throw myself into other people’s shoes all the time in order to keep up in meetings. Thinking on my feet is rarely useful in terms of pretending I know something I don’t, but it is extremely useful in projecting an aura of capability. Being able to hear a lot of new information and apply it sensibly to a situation in a way that makes sense to your client is a valuable skill, and I swear, the time that you set off a spell trap and you didn’t know what it was and you had twelve minutes to identify and disable it will in fact serve you well. If nothing else, you’ll remember not to hyperventilate.

Shameless Pimping

I’ve been playing for a day now, and I missed it so much I nearly broke my cheeks grinning. All of the above is completely and utterly true, but I mostly wrote this post because role-playing makes me happy, and I want everyone to get involved.

So now that I’ve already secured my slot in the limited roster for Escaping Reality, I think all of you should go over and try to get in. Or at least enter the contest on their creative writing and online gaming blog, Capturing Fantasy, because I haven’t won that yet, and you can ruin my statistical likelihood of winning if you skedaddle on over there. That’s math working for you and against me, which is the way I am most comfortable with my math. The day I have a comfortable relationship with math, you will know the Apocalypse is short a horseman.

Subscribe. I may never post again, for I shall be role-playing.



  1. Just when I thought I had read everything, the best just got better.


    Good stuff, Tei

    *slinks off to work on his interpretive dance*

    Comment by Bob Younce at the Writing Journey — May 30, 2008 @ 10:38 am | Reply

  2. Tei,

    Do you get paid in shiny new blog for this endorsement?

    Finding your client’s voice is critical, and if taping bacon to Jake’s cat helps you do that, I’m glad you’ve found your new addiction.

    Somewhat seriously, I like the parallels you made. All good copywriting points.

    If you sound like this in a day, what in the name of Grape-Nuts will you sound like in a week?

    Mmm, Grape-Nuts.




    Comment by Kelly — May 30, 2008 @ 11:43 am | Reply

  3. Great post, Tei! And I believe you about how useful role-playing is. Now if only I could act on it. I used to play Forgotten Realms games like Baldur’s Gate and all those other great ones for days on end. Hours a day. It was very addictive. So when Harry and James’s game came out I got a character sheet — and then promptly shit my pants. I’m scared. My character is still nameless with no personality and 2 dexterity. Suddenly, I can’t form her. I tried. I even tried letting her form herself. Maybe I have to use the force. Maybe it’s because I don’t know what’s really going on yet. So I plan on moseying over to the game and checking it out, hoping to see you guys having so much fun I feel it’s useless to resist.

    See you there.

    Comment by Steph — May 30, 2008 @ 1:56 pm | Reply

  4. Steph, no shame at all in hanging out til you get a feel. I think it’s going to be a blast. Got some really interesting characters going on.

    Come on in the water’s grrrreat!

    Comment by Scott — May 30, 2008 @ 5:43 pm | Reply

  5. Bob: Yeah, I expect some sun salutation-type moves, dude.

    Kelly: Grape nuts. No, I didn’t get paid in blog. I get paid in joy. SO much better.

    Steph: Dude, just write up a character description in a Word doc. Forget the stats, they’ll confuse you. I mean, not horribly, but it’s hard to figure out when you haven’t even entered the world yet. I still haven’t done my stat sheet. Go through James and Harry’s posts on character creation at MwP and Capturing Fantasy (link up there), make yourself a well-rounded character with a good backstory, and send it in. They’re not stat Nazis. USE THE FORCE, SUGARDUMPLING!

    Scott: It is, it is. I’m about to go see if I can’t catch up to you fellows on the street.

    Comment by Tei — May 30, 2008 @ 6:28 pm | Reply

  6. Bacon taped to cats…my god, woman, that’s freakin’ hilarious! This was a fantastic post, loved it muchly (but that’s not going to give you an edge in the CF competition!)

    @Steph: No need to be afraid. Ditch the numbers and the dots and just write. The character’s in your head and wants to get out on the page, just go for it.

    @Bob: No dancing. Especially from you.

    @Kelly: Thank you, I’ll never look at a box of Grape Nuts the same way again. Oh, the puns to be had with that one.

    Comment by Harrison McLeod — May 30, 2008 @ 7:02 pm | Reply

  7. Harry: Oh, I know. Random number generators aren’t generally swayed by flamboyant affection. They’re stoic that way.

    Bacon. Taped to cats. I would like it known that the guy who did that ATTENDED MY COLLEGE, and I’m so proud I may just burst.

    Comment by Tei — May 30, 2008 @ 7:44 pm | Reply

  8. Harry,

    I may have to throw the box in my pantry away.

    Or eat it every single day for breakfast.

    I haven’t decided yet.


    What did I tell you, those millions you spent are looking better and better all the time. ROI, baby.



    Comment by Kelly — May 30, 2008 @ 7:54 pm | Reply

  9. Okay- I just sent the bacon cat pic to NOLA Noir guy. I can’t seem to write my character stats up but I can laugh my butt off about that cat. I am so lame. I must go look at the site again to see if I could make a decent showing.

    Comment by Janice Cartier — May 31, 2008 @ 1:43 am | Reply

  10. The ‘I may never post again’ better be an empty threat! Great post – will go check it out 🙂

    Comment by Simonne — May 31, 2008 @ 1:47 pm | Reply

  11. How do you do… escaping


    To escape is what we humans do throughout our lives. In countries, relationships, friends, jobs, lifestyles and dear old braino with all its pseudo logic, afflictive desires and tempting idiosyncrasies. But will we, could we, do we, want to escape?


    …more at

    Comment by jolly roger — September 11, 2008 @ 10:11 am | Reply

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