Writing Effective Starters: An Essay.
Ever been stuck on how to get two characters to meet? Ever wonder why your starter is liked and forgotten? Ever seen someone else’s interesting starters and thought, man, I wish I could do that?
Here, we’ll teach you how to write a starter in four easy steps.
STEP #1: Engage the Other Character
The first thing you want to do when you want to write a starter is think about the characters in a social environment. Where are they? What are they doing? And most importantly, how is the other person’s character going to get pulled in?
You have to consider the actual contact between characters.Here’s an example of what not to do. My character walked into yours on the sidewalk. If you give me that on my roleplay blog, I will not answer it. No exceptions.
Why? Think about the last time someone bumped into you–in the hallway, in the mall, wherever you were. Did you stop and say ‘hello, my name is [y/n] and I think we should do [activity] and be friends?’ NO. The person probably mumbled a 'sorry,’ you probably mumbled ’s'okay,’ and you both went off to do whatever.
That is an ineffective starter because, plain and simple, you didn’t pull the character in. You can go ahead and spend as many paragraphs as your heart desires describing the business of the city, what your character’s wearing, the weather, the atmosphere, whatever, but listen up: if you do not actively engage the other character, your starter is ineffective.
So what do you do? There are tons of options. Have your character speak directly to the other character. Have your character do something where someone else is able to jump in. The other writer is trying to put their character with yours, and they’ll work with you on this, just don’t leave everything up to them.
Going back to our example, instead of having someone walk into another character, have them stand in line and compliment the other person’s [insert literally anything here]. They can just make a comment about how long the line is taking. Now the character is engaged.
And other note, I’ve seen starters where one character is talking to a third-party archetype and the expectation is that my character will swoops in like a hawk and steal your character away from whoever they’re talking to. This is–don’t. Don’t ever. No. Bad. Shame on you.
Here’s a quick check-list to make sure your starter will work:
- is my character directly contacting the other character?
- is my character doing something that the other character can appropriately respond to?
- have I made it possible for someone to reply to my starter?
STEP #2. Check Your Writing.
This is a good tip for roleplaying in general, obviously, but it’s even more important for starters, especially if it’s an open, or the first time you’re making a starter for someone. I’ve seen a lot of starters from quality blogs that don’t even make sense because the writing is so inflated. Whether you’re trying to look good, do more than your ability, or think you need to try extra-hard, don’t. Just keep your starters natural. Don’t use words you don’t know. Don’t use compound sentences if you’re not familiar with the sentence structure. Don’t use crack grammar styles because you think it might be right. Stick to what you know, read over it before you hit post, and stay in control of your writing. It’s better to have a beautiful one-line starter than a long para that confuses other writers.
Re-read your starter before you post it and ask yourself these questions:
- is my grammar correct?
- are my words spelled correctly?
- are there any typos?
- are the actions clear?
- does I have any vague sections?
- will others be able to understand what I wrote?
STEP #3. Have an idea for your thread before you make your starter.
There’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a really generic starter with a writer I want to work with, replying, and then not being able to find a suitable plot and floundering into nothingness. There should be a “something happens” section in a thread. In creative writing, this is called “The Trouble.” The sooner you get your character into trouble, the better.
In a nutshell, you should have an idea for your starter planned beforehand. I’ll use an example from my roleplay blog. One of my characters is a librarian. So if my threads are lacking and I want to use her, I might go and make a starter that’s something like,
Eliza sat behind at her desk, trying to focus on a book instead of [insert stressor here]. When someone walked in, she smiled, even though she wished they weren’t there. “Hi, can I help you?” She hoped they said yes, since she currently had a bottle of alcohol hidden on almost every shelf and it’d be really awkward if someone were to find them.
This isn’t the best starter, but it comes with a plot. In fact, it comes with multiple plots. When someone answers this, their character can a) notice my character is really harried and start asking after her, b) think she’s being a jerk and give her attitude, c) answer her question with a 'yes’ and continue to observe how frazzled the librarian is until something happens, or d) answer with 'no,’ find a hidden bottle of alcohol, and watch the plot turn into a kaleidoscope of options that the writer can choose from.
Now, let’s say you want to write a one-line starter. This is a more nuanced thing. It’s easy to write “Hey, want to hang out?,” stick a .gif and a #open+rp under it, and wait for replies. I do it all the time. This starter is fine: the grammar/spelling is correct, it engages the other character, it’s good, right?
The problem comes in with the next few exchanges. When someone replies with “sure,” an a .gif, and you’ve kinda just typed up your starter without thinking about it cuz your threads are dead, whatever whatever, you run the risk of either sitting there like 'uhhh’ or having a dud thread that leads to your character and the other character standing in an undefined white room like 'what do you wanna do’ 'idk what do you wanna do’ until someone just drops it.
So don’t do that.
And some of you will say that you’re just letting the other person use their ideas. To this I say, no. No, no, NO, no no. You can’t just post your generic open hoping that someone else will have an idea. If the other person had an idea, they’d make their own starter.
This ties in with the example I used earlier: don’t have your character walk into someone else’s and expect the other writer to just pull some plot out of their derriere that smells like rainbows and perfection. It doesn’t work that way. You come up with something. You’re the one making the starter. That little thing that says 'source’ next your blog name means it was you. Own it.
If you want to post a one-line starter that says 'hey, wanna hang out?,’ you should have an idea of what your character’s going to do. Whether that’s going to smoke a blunt, getting coffee, or taking a free class in underwater basket-weaving at the local oyster club is up to you.
Ask yourself these questions to avoid these pitfalls:
- where is this thread going?
- does my character have a clear idea of what’s going on?
- is there a plot here?
- am I trying to dump the plot work onto whomever replies?
STEP #4: Have an accessible setting.
If you want to get replies to your open, don’t give someone a setting that their character wouldn’t be in. I cannot count how many times I’ve seen really, really good starters that I can’t reply to because of the setting. It’s nice to make a post like 'omg why are you in my house,’ but, shocker, most people don’t just walk into other people’s houses’. Another big one I see all the time is when writers say something like 'no one’s around.’ If no one’s there, no one’s there.
Now obviously, accessible starters are on a case-by-case basis. Maybe a stranger wouldn’t be in someone’s house, but their significant other would be. Setting is something to play with and enjoy, but you should still keep it in mind. Don’t force other writers to finagle around with their characters to put them in some bizarre place just so they can answer your starter. Put your character somewhere other people will be–instead of in the middle of a forest where no one is, put them just outside of a campsite. Instead of writing 'no one’s around,’ talk about how your character assumed no one was going to be there. Don’t stick your character in random places just for the hell of it and pray to the roleplay gods that someone will bend over backwards to make it work.
By the same token, I see a lot of starters without an established setting. Don’t do that, either. It’s OK not to have everything hammered down in the original starter, but have some idea of where your character is. Your character doesn’t exist in a little white room. Put them somewhere, and put them somewhere that makes sense.
If you need to test your starter’s setting, ask yourself these questions:
- would other characters be here?
- have I cut off other characters?
- do I have an actual setting?
- if no, do I have an implied setting?
So there are your four steps. Engage the other character, have proper grammar/spelling, have a plot idea in mind, and take care of the setting.
Make it easy for other writers to answer your starter. Don’t stump them or expect them to pick up all the work. It’s great if you write a half-page starter with beautiful extended metaphors and 5 Shakespeare references, but it’s all a waste if your character’s on the moon, the reader’s lost in your hyperbole, you didn’t use quotes, and your character’s busy talking to the Queen of England.
Before you click post, ask yourself these questions:
- does this make sense?
- if someone sent this to me, could I answer this?
- if someone sent this to me, would I want to answer this?
- does this look promising?
- am I praying to the roleplay gods that someone replies to this instead of doing some basic footwork to get replies?
And that’s all from me, folks!
#tips #writing #writing tips #roleplay #rp #rp help #roleplay tips #roleplay help #starters #starter #t
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Et in Orcadia ego
In a recent post (‘scrap futures’) we mentioned a project we’re doing with Laura Watts from ITU Copenhagen and partners in Scotland that involves building a gravity battery on the small island of Eday in Orkney.
We’ve just returned from that island-to-island journey. It was quite a trip, a proper eye opener. We arrived on Sunday evening with nothing - no tools or materials of any kind - and by Thursday we were running a public demo of a gravity-powered Casio keyboard playing Ode to Joy. Here is a brief (and highly subjective) travelogue and technical account of the process, which was not unlike a 72-hour Scrapheap Challenge, but involving the whole community.
The northward trek
Three of us left Madeira early on the Friday, bidding farewell to sunshine and flower blossoms. The fourth in our party, Mohammed, coming from rural Sweden, met us that night in Inverness. By Saturday morning we had reached Kirkwall, on the Orkney Mainland. Laura arrived on the next flight, and over a lunch of fish and chips we shared our thoughts about the gravity battery, including what sort of scrap we might use to make it - an old motorcycle, a car or tractor, even a crashed Vespa someone had mentioned. There was also the question of what we should do with the energy it released. Previously we had powered a record player; this time we had in mind a lamp, or an old radio playing The Shipping Forecast. None of us had ever been to Eday, an island of ten square miles with a population of just 130 people.
The wind picked up and the afternoon ferry was cancelled, so we headed over to Stromness on the other side of the Mainland to spend the night in the atmospheric Stromness Hotel. Enrique waxed poetic on the irony of Silicon Valley’s dreams of colonising Mars, when we were stranded ten miles from our destination by a bit of wind. But we made the best of it, and after a full Scottish breakfast with haggis on Sunday morning we drove back to Kirkwall and caught the afternoon ferry. We arrived after dark, windswept and seasalted, and followed the island’s only road to the only year-round accommodation, the hostel, where we met our documentary filmmaker, Aaron Watson. The trip north had taken three days, leaving only three days to build for the demonstration.
Build Day 1
We woke Monday morning to the sound of a large wind turbine spinning fast outside the hostel, telling us the weather conditions. In fact the island grid is powered entirely by renewable energy - Eday’s experimental and community-driven use of renewables, including wind, tidal, and solar, as well as storage in hydrogen fuel cells, is the main reason we were keen to visit. Even the electric heaters in the hostel are powered at certain times by energy overflow from the wind turbine outside. Everyone we met on Eday was extremely well versed in energy generation and storage, including the seven children of the local primary school who spoke knowledgeably about electrolysers and curtailment.
We met Clive, our local fixer and project partner with Eday Renewable Energy Ltd., after a solid breakfast of porridge and bacon butties. Before we set out to gather scrap materials and tools, he gave us a pep talk of sorts: ‘This may look like chaos. But I assure you the machine will be built, it will be demonstrated, and you will leave happy on the ferry Friday morning.’ In the car he pointed out the island’s landmarks and mentioned some of the people we would likely meet that day. As far as we could tell you were not allowed to have the same name as anyone else on the island - when a second Kate arrived she was renamed Katie, and the second Mike became Mick. This we decided was as good a definition of a small island as any we’d heard. Clive warned us that the community would need some convincing before they got involved. We should expect questions like: What’s in it for Eday?
The first stop of the morning was the Old Church, which had been bought by a woman from London with big plans in the 1980s and has sat derelict ever since. Here we found an old motorcycle, a red Kawasaki, parked in the middle of the church amongst other scrap (a Super 8 camera, a record player, a typewriter). The bike had only 12,000 miles on the odometer, but it was buried under a thick blanket of corrosive pigeon shit, and all of its insides were seized beyond reasonable use. We took a lot of photographs. At the second stop, the New Church a minute down the road, we found a large brass bell salvaged from a sunken steamship. We thought we might use it as a weight for the gravity battery. Permission would have to be sought, Clive said. The third stop was an old mechanic’s back garden, full of rusted cars and a jumble of engine parts. ‘Did he die?’ someone asked. ‘No, just left the island’, Clive replied. James opened the hood of an old BMW and found a live rabbit inside.
We checked out the building site next, a shed by the pier used mostly for deliveries. It had a forklift and plenty of room - the first real success of the day. We would have to clear out twice a day when the ferry docked, but aside from that it was ours. We agreed it would do very nicely. Our other Eday contact, Andy, who works with Clive, met us at the shed. From there we drove to an old quarry on the far side of the island, a five-minute journey. As we walked around the site, staring up at the sheer sides from the quarry base, someone had an epiphany about making a gravity-powered keyboard. Andy, it turned out, not only knew how to play (he was currently the church organist), he had also been the keyboardist in an eighties band called Freeez, who had a number one single in the US dance charts (‘IOU’). We all agreed that if we could get hold of a scrap keyboard the issue of what to do with the energy released by the gravity battery was solved.
After lunch at the hostel we met some people from the community in a building next to the island shop. The key moment in this meeting was the suggestion that Mick, who was spotted leaving the shop outside, had an old motorcycle in his barn; someone ran out to talk to Mick and he kindly agreed to let us follow him home. He was a large man in a CCCP shirt, who told us in a Liverpool accent to mind the ducks and sheep. He opened the barn and dragged out an old dirt bike, its wheels clogged with hay; he used an axe to free up the front wheel, and four of us rolled it up the driveway in the rain and waited as someone found a van to bring it back to the pier shed. We were cold and wet, and the light was fading on our first day, but we had a motorcycle and a rough plan. We ate a hearty dinner at Roadside, the island’s former pub turned occasional restaurant (actually just a dining room in a private house), and then returned to the hostel to drink whisky and sleep.
Build Day 2
We arrived at the shed Tuesday morning at 9.05am to find several islanders already waiting in boilersuits, ready to work. We introduced ourselves, made some tea, and set up to start cutting into the bike, while Clive got on the phone to order a new chain from the Mainland - the only part the bike was missing. We quickly sourced some necessary tools from generous community members, including an angle grinder (Aaron the filmmaker’s favourite, because it made a photogenic shower of sparks), a lathe, and a socket set, and got to work. By lunch the bike was stripped, leaving only the parts necessary for the gravity battery - the frame, engine, and rear axle. In the afternoon two of us went to the school to give a workshop while the others stayed back at the shed. The wind blew and the rain poured down. Countless cups of tea were consumed. Soon the day was over, the children went home, the shed was locked up, and at the hostel Mohammed made his special dhal. It was Halloween night on a remote Scottish island, so obviously we watched The Wicker Man. More whisky was consumed.
Build Day 3
The challenge now was how to get the gravity battery over the fence and down into the quarry, our chosen site for Thursday’s demo. We noticed a large tractor - who did it belong to? Could somebody drive it there? Health and safety was still a headache that Andy was dealing with, negotiating with the property owners in England and the insurance company. It was blowing a gale all the previous night and all morning; the rain beat down on the corrugated iron roof of the shed, making it hard to hear anyone speak.
On the positive side, people from the community were beginning to get excited about working together on this strange and unexpected project. Old habits were shifting as people from different parts of the island who rarely spoke to each other met and pitched in as a team. Hamish and Mel, native Orcadians, came to join in and brought their son Robbie, an apprentice engineer. An old Casio keyboard was found, and after some minor tinkering was brought back to life. The chain arrived by afternoon ferry. Calculations were underway for rigging a pulley over the quarry edge. More people showed up, to work or to watch. Clive told us stories of moving to London in the late sixties, working in Carnaby Street, seeing the Stones in Hyde Park. ‘What brought you up to Eday?’ we asked. ‘Cheap innit’, he said with a smile. We met other southerners who said the same thing. But their attachment to the place had obviously gone very deep.
On Wednesday afternoon we went to use the lathe in the shed of a friendly guy named Mike, another Englishman and ex-submariner who lived in the old schoolhouse. Mike left a note in the shed telling us what to do if a blackbird showed up at the door - he had trained the bird to come in and ask for food when it was hungry. Sure enough the bird showed up, looking at us expectantly until we passed it some raisins and a biscuit. When we finished our machining Mike invited us into the main house. In what turned out to be one of the highlights of our week in Eday, Mike showed us not only a display he’d made on the history of the school, but also - leading us through a hole in the wall - no less than a full-sized model of the inside of a submarine, complete with salvaged periscope, control panels, and torpedo launchers. We walked through room after room, through sleeping quarters with life-sized mannequin sailors, until we reached the end and emerged back into the schoolhouse. We shook hands with Mike, somewhat unsettled by what we’d just seen, and returned to the pier shed.
That night at dinner we discussed our visit to Eday as a three-act play. The first two acts, we decided, had established the principal characters and their relationship to the world they lived in. The inciting incident of Act One was our arrival on the island, with a mad plan to build a gravity battery from scrap. The rising action of Act Two was the first three days of building, where we pitched in with the community to make the thing we’d set out to make - the spectre of public humiliation creating tension and driving us forward. The character arcs of ourselves and everyone in the community developed under this pressure; Andy and Clive even told us that relationships between community members had been altered - for the good - by our presence. People who hadn’t spoken to each other in years exchanged words; old feuds were put to rest or laid aside. For our part we gained insights about ourselves, our roles, and the nature of our work.
Every story needs a climax, and it usually involves collectively overcoming a crisis. So it was not unexpected that we should receive a phone call at dinner that night, the night before the public demo, telling us that the absentee landowner would not allow access to our chosen site, the quarry, without insurance - and negotiations with the insurance company had reached an impasse. Andy was trying his best to provide evidence of due diligence to both parties; but insurance is about predictability, and is naturally risk-averse. Testing a gravity battery made from scrap in an abandoned quarry with children present is not an ideal scenario from the insurer’s perspective. How could we bridge the gap between health and safety, on one hand, and daring innovation and experimentation, on the other? How could we achieve a satisfying resolution and leave happy, as Clive promised, on Friday morning?
Andy, as we mentioned above, was a professional musician in his previous life - he had played on Top of the Pops and The Old Grey Whistle Test. So when he sat down to rehearse for the demo on Thursday morning, perched on a wooden crate in shorts and hiking boots and a down jacket, tapping at the keys of a salvaged Casio, the other islanders laughed and jibed goodnaturedly: ‘You’ve come a long way, Andy!’ The crisis at the quarry had been overcome, or rather bypassed completely, by ten o’clock: just as the insurance problem was solved, we decided it would be easier to stage the demo at the pier near the shed, so that no major moving of equipment would be involved. Now momentum was gathering towards the final event and resolution.
The demo was scheduled for after lunch. Word spread and by late morning a small crowd started to gather. We were busy with small jobs: like untangling rope for the pulley to suspend the mass, a 25-litre water container, from a long metal pole extending off the fork of a tractor Hamish had driven over from his farm. The motorcycle chassis that formed the heart of the machine was strapped to a wooden pallet. We only had to figure out how to lift the weight into the air - in Madeira we had used a solar panel, but that was not an option in Orkney. Various attempts were made, including hooking up the battery from Mike’s car, but with no success.
The school bus pulled into the parking lot in front of the pier shed and the children got out. They lined up in front of the crowd and showed drawings of the gravity batteries they had designed earlier in the week. One child broke down under the pressure and sobbed loudly, but eventually held up his drawing between shaking hands. The weather was calm and dry. We handed out Madeiran sweets to the kids, who wore reflective vests for safety. Everyone stood facing us in a semicircle and waited for the show to begin. At the last moment a solution was found: James improvised an attachment to a rechargeable electric drill and used it to drive a super low-gear winch, slowly raising the water container. It seemed a bit of a cheat - though in fact it wasn’t, since the island’s grid is powered by renewables - but the mass was now suspended, the energy was stored until needed, and that was the main point. We called for everyone’s attention; released the mass; wires were connected and the keyboard came to life. Andy played ‘Ode to Joy’, followed by ‘The Flintstones’ for the children. The performance lasted several minutes, then the keyboard fell silent at the instant the water container touched the ground. The crowd went wild. We did it again, and then again - the last time letting the kids take turns banging out some noise. It was a success. We cleaned up as dusk fell.
That evening there was a gathering at the community centre. Andy led a discussion with ourselves and some of the islanders, including Hamish and Mel and their children, ‘Submarine’ Mike, Ivan and his son Jordan, and many others, that felt productive. It verged at times on emotional, as people discussed past achievements like the installation of the massive community-owned wind turbine, along with possible futures of the community and the island itself. We tried to impress the point that, given enough time and ideal conditions, their energy storage solution (or ‘Newton Machine’) would not be a gravity battery - which was something we had created out of the particular materials and terrain of Madeira - but rather a bespoke solution for Eday, built not from Madeiran sucata but from Orcadian bruck, taking advantage of local conditions, like a flow battery made with seawater. But we had three days to produce something spectacular with the community, so we decided to make an Eday version of a gravity battery - and according to those terms, we succeeded. As we sat around talking into the night, surrounded by absolute darkness except for the lights of neighbouring islands and the hostel in the distance, we also agreed that the machine we built was, in some real sense, a social machine.
We hoped that our strange event on Eday, our intervention of sorts, had made an impact on the community. We received a positive sign from Andy the day after we returned, in the form of a message that read: ‘I’m about to order my very first angle grinder, just so I can make my own sparks, just for the sheer fun of it.’ He said he’d been inspired to ‘have a go’. Between Andy’s words (and music), Clive’s stories, Mike’s submarine, Mick’s motorcycle, Ivan’s joyful exclamations of ‘happy days!’, the schoolchildren’s imaginative designs, and Hamish’s son Robbie melting aluminium in a kitchen pot with a blowtorch to cast parts for the gravity battery, we concluded that some good had come of the trip. Still ahead, Laura will write up our experiences on Eday from an ethnographer’s perspective, and Aaron will make a short film to present at our exhibition in Barcelona early next year. The gravity battery itself, meanwhile, remains on the island - being too heavy to transport - and will hopefully power Andy’s reconfigured Casio keyboard through the winter months.
Julian Hanna and James Auger.