By day, Olivia Zimmer, 23, is an English teacher living in Incheon, South Korea, far from her cozy hometown in northern Illinois, USA. By night, she’s an aspiring writer, like so many of us. But her chosen path to developing and refining her skills is one you may not have heard of before.
Just one year after she fell in love with writing, Zimmer joined her first roleplay (RP) writing community—a place where writers from all over the world come together to write back-and-forth, in character, to create collaborative works of fiction just for fun.
After 10 years of RP, Zimmer has met and interacted with dozens of fellow writers who share her passion and love for words. We sat down with her to hear more about how RP, for some, might be the key to turning small fragments of ideas into functional, beautiful strings of words.
How did you first become involved in RP?
I’m not really sure how it happened, really. My best friend Mary and I were having fun on MySpace one day and all of a sudden we were a part of this community of people that had the same idea we had.
Who was your first-ever character? What was that first RP experience like?
My first-ever character was Hermione Granger, but I made her original. Her name was Hershey and she was obsessed with chocolate. [That] first RP experience was a lot different than it is now. Back then, people didn’t write really long responses (what we call multi-para or novella). Everything back then was in the perspective of your character, but you basically chatted. It was what we now call one-lining. Where you went on some kind of adventure. But you only wrote a sentence or two, and your actions.
Who is your favorite most recent character to write as?
I don’t think I could pick a favorite! I currently write as several characters from the T.V. show “Once Upon A Time.” I love them all in different ways because it allows me to write in so many different perspectives of the same situation. As a hero, as a villain, and as a child.
Describe what it’s like to interact with other writers in RP online communities.
It’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced. Most of the time, interactions are kept solely on the storyline, so you stay in character and you only write your story. Other times, you can interact in other places (like the status stream or on AIM). While interacting on the stream, it allows you to stay in character but also talk to people faster than through your writing. On AIM, you can choose to write in character or out of character (OOC). That’s where we form our friendships outside of RP.
How is RP different from writing stories by yourself?
You can’t plan ahead. Most people like to discuss a starting point for the story, but after that, you can’t anticipate anything. You don’t know what the other person will write and you have to adapt from there.
In your opinion, what are the advantages of RP in terms of developing writing skills and interacting with other writers?
I think being able to kind of think on your toes is one big advantage. You can take your time in writing, but whatever you write has to both make sense to the story you’re trying to create with another person while also incorporating your own style and voice.
Personally, it really helps my creativity. Some storylines push me past my comfort zone ad I write things I wouldn’t normally write about. I also think interacting with other writers gives you a chance to let out your creativity in a variety of ways instead of limiting yourself to just one world or one story.
What are the disadvantages?
The biggest disadvantage of writing with other people is the drama. It’s hard to believe that a majority of the people on the site are adults and they cause drama with others. We always welcome the drama in storylines, but outside of that, it tends to get personal and people are still cyber-bullied.
Another disadvantage is when people lose their muse or abandon their page. You lose a story that way. One that you really can’t recreate with anyone else, even if they play the same character.
How has RP helped you become a better writer?
I think it’s really helped my overall creativity. I’m able to move outside of my comfort zone in writing and work on things I wouldn’t normally think about.
Is it harder to write on your own, being so used to collaborating with and building off of others and their ideas?
I don’t think so. Granted, I haven’t written a novel-length story on my own in a while, but sometimes I have ideas involving characters that no one else wants to write about. So I write short stories just to get the idea out.
What’s the most important thing RP has taught you about storytelling?
I guess not to hold back. The more detail, the better the experience. Really get inside your character’s head and figure out the holes that the original creator left open or fill them in with your original character. Make the story yours.
What advice would you give to a writer who might be hesitant to share their work online or roleplay with other writers from around the world?
Don’t by shy! If you want to be a serious writer one day, you need to be willing to share your work. I know it’s difficult. But there’s no better way to share something with someone who has similar interests and similar writing styles than by sharing it on RP.
What should someone’s first step be if they are looking to join an RP community and create a character?
Really the first step is to find the right website. [There are] a lot of them out there. Some are more like forums, where they only accept one of each character and they build their community that way. There are other websites that allow more creativity. You can create your own characters or create ones that already exist and interact with multiple others.
Roleplayer.com and Tumblr are both good places to start if you’re looking for a larger community. Otherwise, looking for a forum-based group for a specific T.V. show, movie or book would be good for a smaller community.
Whether you start out small or dive into the Tumblr scene RP has the potential to change the way you interact with characters and develop captivating storylines. With a lot of practice, you can use the skills you learn in interacting with online forums in your own individual writing projects.
If you think RP might be able to help you build your confidence and keep you outside your comfort zone, give it a try! Joining in the RP scene doesn’t mean you have to stop writing on your own. Like Zimmer, you can do both. Like any online community, it has its advantages and disadvantages. But it’s worth it, if it gives you a new excuse to write more often.
Have more RP-related questions for Olivia? Leave them in the comments and we’ll pass them along!
Image courtesy of Olivia Zimmer.