Acting Out

Have you ever tried role-playing to enhance your writing?

One place that I get a lot of my writing ideas is at the gaming table. Now, I know not everyone is into table-top role-playing games like me, but the world offers other avenues to “role-play” your writing.

Consider hosting a murder mystery dinner party . You can find these kits online and in retail stores. The game my friends and I played contained invitations to dinner, booklets for all the “suspects” (including their roles), a few hints, and a CD with some other information. The idea was for everyone invited to dress their characters and camp it up for the evening.

We had rented a house at a nearby resort town for a few days near New Year’s one year, and we wanted to do more than just sit around and drink and tell each other the same old lies. Everyone brought some form of entertainment—music, a movie, a game, a deck of cards. I opted to bring a game that was more interactive than we usually experienced, and the group was willing to give it a shot.

Our characters included Andy Warthog, Gloria Stunnam, John Revolting, Lyza M, Bruce Leap, and Diana Rush. Because an odd number of guests were invited, one of our friends played the dual role of Sunny and Share. We had so much fun. They were good sports about my mini introduction to role-playing games, even though I never convinced them to join me at a Dungeons & Dragons table. 

The point is, I learned about characters that night. Even though I’d read through most of the material and had an idea whodunit, the night still went in directions I had not anticipated. As a writer, that information is invaluable.

Another idea for realism is to try an escape room. I haven’t had that experience yet, but my brother has gone into several in our area, and he tells me about them. He and his friends even hold a record in one room. It’s something I would like to try sometime, just to say I’ve done it. The only escape rooms I’ve been in are the virtual kind. Again, the experience can add realism to your writing. 

I’m lucky enough to live a couple hours’ drive from an annual Renaissance Festival. I love dressing up in my leathers, boots, jerkin, and donning my fake sword and dagger to walk the streets of a “medieval” settlement as a rogue for a day. Turkey legs and ale are feasted upon as revelers, both in costume and not, make way as the Royal Court parades through town to the jousting field. This festival happens in the summer, so it’s hot and sticky. “Brawls” erupt from time to time. Crafters sell their wares. Comedy is a staple of the Faire, so expect to see some bawdy entertainment. I love to go to see the costuming, take pictures, and look back when I’m trying to write something that I can look at to refresh my memory. In all, it’s fun, especially if you like the medieval aspect of the setting.

At first job as a Tech Writer, one of the folks I got to know was a LARPer. LARP is an acronym for live-action role-playing. About once a week, she and I would go down to the shipping dock at lunch and “fight” each other using “weapons” we had made from cardboard shipping tubes and duct tape. Our coworkers thought we were nuts, but it was one of the best workouts I would get in a week.

One of the best things about that lunch workout was that I had to move in ways I hadn’t expected. We played with padded cardboard, but a hard strike could still leave a welt, so we had to be careful. Five minutes left us breathless and tired, but our goal was to fight for fifteen minutes with a couple of short, catch-our-breath breaks. It was instructional in that I learned how to move, to dodge and weave as I defended and attacked. I also learned that although my characters are frequently two-bladed fighters, I am not. I am a two-handed fighter, and the techniques are decidedly different. Again, very instructional.

With a little imagination, a walk in the woods or along the beach can turn into an opportunity to put yourself in your character’s shoes. What are they experiencing? What led them to where they are in your story? When you are out and about, think about your character and how the greater world affects them and your stories. It’s the character interaction that makes or breaks a tale. How one person reacts or doesn’t to a particular set of circumstances can make all the difference in how a story ends.

A little role-playing can go a long way. Whether that play is in your imagination or you act it out with someone else, don’t be afraid to play a little pretend.

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