Role-playing in Writing

Seems to me that I’m usually  late to the game when it comes to some of the novel writing concepts floating around, and this may well be one of them.
I’m gonna write about it anyway.
I started playing role-playing games back when Dungeons & Dragons was pretty much the only game in town (almost literally). Yes, I saw ads in comic books for another TSR game called Gamma World that looked intriguing, and I knew somehow about the game Traveller, though I no longer remember how I knew about it. Whatever the case, I was never able to play either of these other games. We played First Edition D&D up until the 90s—we never really bought into any of the other editions. Then, in rather rapid order, we discovered Rifts and GURPS and left D&D behind.
Then, sometime in the late 90s, maybe to early Aughts, we stopped playing. The group dwindled to three people, meaning that two people were players while the third was always the Game Master, and we decided we knew one another too well for the game to be really intriguing with so few players, so we stopped.
Now, flash forward to today. The guy I work with is a role-player and he’s gotten me interested in it again. To the point where I’m trying to put together a GURPS version of Classic World of Darkness (I won’t go into explaining what that is. If you really wanna know, google it).

And that’s got me thinking: how much do we, as writers, role-play when we write? Do we all do it, or is it like outlining vs. seat-of-the-pants writing, where some do it one way, some another, with yet others doing something in between?
When I write my stories about Lyle Villines, I engage in quite a bit of role-playing. It’s not so much that Lyle is an extension of me (though that’s true) as it is I immerse myself in the character of Lyle Villines in order to make him sound more real. He shares a lot of my history and ideals because, as I was writing, this was the easiest way to give him a ring of authenticity. I don’t have to make up details about him and his past because I’m not. I’m drawing from my own life.
I suspect many authors do the same thing. I remember being surprised when I found out how many real-life details Stephen King, um, appropriated for his fictional town of Derry, Maine. Learning that also took the blinders off for me and opened up lots of new possibilities for me in my writing. I just took it a step further and set Lyle’s story in the very real Washington County and surrounding areas. What I changed were the details, such as who has been elected sheriff, things like that.
The downside to this is it takes getting in a certain frame of mind to write Lyle’s stories. I role-play more with Lyle, as he’s my flagship character (if there is such a thing. If not, there is for me lol). And, when you’ve had a lot of time away from writing a character as I have with Lyle, that makes it harder to get back in the right frame of mind to keep Lyle sounding like Lyle. I have to become him again, and that’s kinda like getting to know someone again after you haven’t seen them in a long time. You’ve both changed since last time you were together, and that affects your writing.
Now that I’ve got some time off, I’m going to do my best to re-immerse myself in Lyle in order to get the prequel done and rewrite the beginning of the first full novel.
How about you? Do you role-play your characters? Or is it more like watching a movie for you? How do you write about your characters?


2 thoughts on “Role-playing in Writing

  1. David Richards

    That’s an excellent question. Neither or both. I don’t know. I guess I kind of get myself out of the way and let it rip. Obviously I’m doing something, but I think it kind of comes from my subconscious. I do notice sometimes that scenes I’ve written or characters I’ve developed remind me of things in real life. Never in obvious ways though.

    Good post. Thank you for making me think.

  2. rgayer55

    quite honestly, I never gave it any thought. As I reflect on some of my writing, I would say I position myself on the side and try to play the straight-man role and let the main character push the humor button.


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