I know that things are getting harder, but you're not getting smarter.

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How the RPG Board Helped Me Grow as a Writer

It's been a while since I started playing on Comic Vine's RPG board. During that time I've created a multitude of aliases, but have also had breaks, slowed down, or hit massive bursts of activity, depending on my mood and my schedule. Given time, I started to realize that something I initially thought was a pleasant time-waster was actually starting to help me a lot as a writer.

I suppose that deserves some explanation. As a writer trying to work on novels, comics, and various other mediums, I had a few specific struggles. One of them was motivation, keeping up my creative spirit, and sitting down to actually do the writing. Another was making my writing and stories more than just... well, characters doing things. My stories tended to settle one- or two-dimensional characters down a linear pathway that made up the tale's storyline. They were dry, to the point, and often shorter than they should have been.

How the RPG board changed that:

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After making character after character, and storyline after storyline, my desire to write began to grow. I didn't know how each character would end up growing because of the way they interacted with the characters and players around them. I learned how to create different kinds of situations. I learned how a single character can react to different things in different ways, and how those differences and nuances were what created a multi-layered person. I became increasingly driven to see what would happen to those characters as they tackled more hurdles and steadily grew, and that was when I realized something huge.

Characters take time to develop. You can sit down at a desk and write out the most complex character you can think of, but characters primarily grow reactively. Without writing them, they'll never fully develop. And if you develop them too much early on, they'll end up overly (and artificially) complex. The point of this revelation is that 99% of writers start writing their story with their main character, a character with no development. They have to develop over time, meaning that you'll never end up with a nuanced personality until halfway through the book, if at all.

Take, for instance, the Icewind Dale trilogy. While R.A. Salvatore is a sketchy writer at times, there was no denying that his characters felt organic and lived-in from the get-go. Why? Because those books were based off of a D&D campaign. Those characters had players, and those players gave those characters distinct voices. By the time Salvatore started writing the books he had already been living with those characters for some time. Despite their simplicity, they were developed before he ever even put them to paper (besides their character sheets, of course).

It's vital to develop a character, through writing them, before committing them to paper. Not doing that earns you a one-dimensional character who never faces any challenges that you didn't specifically put them through, already knowing how they'd handle them. I feel like characters need various interactions and challenges before they can feel “lived-in.”

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Take the Mass Effect and Dragon Age games. Those characters showed how they acted not only in their interactions with you, but with each other. Each character became faceted and unique, with vibrant personalities that were easy to love and identify with, but that was because each one seemed complete by the time we meet them.

Now, on the flip-side, take the constant onslaught of Straight White Male Everymen that current media tosses at us. How many of these can you relate with right away? Yeah, a lot of them have storylines that slowly unfold by the time the film's over, and you might be left kind of enjoying them. But rarely will you like them right away – that's left for the supporting characters who have more intense personalities and usually end up dying before we can get attached. These characters aren't created to be deep, they're created to be blank slates that can be slotted into whatever role the plot necessitates. And they're universally boring. This is as much true of books and games as it is movies and shows – without a personality that's already been explored in some manner, that personality rarely actually shines through in that character's actions and dialogue.

I guess the point that I'm trying to make is that, through using characters to interact with other players, I've created personas far more deep and complex than those I've written on solo projects (these tend to end up feeling either too bland or too bizarre). My confidence is gradually increasing in my writing and specifically in my ability to create characters, locations, and story arcs. I've learned about character interactions and relationships. I've learned about creating different facets that all shine a different way when a different light is shone upon them. For that, I thank the RPG boards. It's made a big difference in the way I write and the way I feel about my writing.

And then, a gecko devoured the sun.