So, you’ve been hitting it off with a new potential roleplay partner, when one of you drops the dreaded question: “who is going to write the starter?”
Writing a roleplay starter is not unlike writing the first page of a story. It needs to be interesting, concise, and cover a lot of introductory material in a short amount of time. There’s a lot riding on that first message in a roleplay too, since you know the other person is going to judge your writing style, your characters, and your storytelling ability. So… it’s not surprising that many people shy away from the responsibility.
However, writing the starter is a privilege. When you get to start the entire story, you get to be in charge of the setting, the situation, and the fated meeting between the characters. And honestly, it’s not as difficult as people make it out to seem. Once you understand the formula, you’ll want to take charge and write the starters for every roleplay you’re a part of.
The Basics of a Roleplay Starter
A “starter” is the first message in a roleplay thread; it is the start of the story. When you write a lazy starter, there’s not a lot of incentive for the other person to respond. No one wants to do all the work in a roleplay, so you need to make sure you are providing a starter that they will be excited to respond to and build off of.
In order for a starter to be effective, it needs to do three basic things:
- Set the scene
- Introduce your characters
- And create an opportunity for the other person to respond
I’ll break down each point in more detail in the sections below.
Set the Scene
The very first thing your starter should do is establish the setting in which the characters are going to encounter each other. Do they meet in a bar? Are they on the same plane? Are they both wandering through the same cursed forest? No matter what you choose, you need to make sure you are describing the scene well so the other player knows how to navigate it with their own character.
In many cases, the initial setting is discussed before the actual start of the roleplay. However, even if you know in advance that the characters will be meeting in a coffee shop, you still get to name the coffee shop, describe the atmosphere, and establish the basic layout of the building. Don’t get too hung up on the details, however. You aren’t writing a novel after all, and you don’t want your starter to end up being several thousand words.
There is a notable exception to this rule. If you are writing a fandom roleplay, and the characters will be meeting in a location that appears in the original story (the “canon”), then you simply have to state the location and where your character is within it.
Introduce Your Characters
The next most important thing that a starter must do is introduce the character (or characters) you intend to play.
In almost all cases, roleplayers exchange character bios before the start of the roleplay. This is an important step that allows you and your roleplay partner to determine the potential chemistry between the characters. The last thing you want is to realize the characters don’t have a good dynamic after the story gets rolling.
If you aren’t sure what should be included in a character bio, I have another article on the topic that may help you out: How to Write a Character Bio (With Examples!).
You should still include a brief character bio even if you intend to play a canon character from a fandom. Use their bio as a way of introducing quirks and behaviors that you think apply to the character, and share any headcanons that you may have for them. If the character deviates at all from how they are depicted in the source material, then you need to point that out as well.
Since the other player already knows your character’s basic information from their bio, you don’t need to give a complete physical description of them when you introduce them in the starter. You can mention a few of their physical traits, but for the most part, your introduction should focus on how the character behaves.
To go back to the coffee shop example: Is your character sitting quietly by themself with a bagel and a coffee? Are they engaged in a debate with other coffee shop goers? Are they arguing with the cashier about their credit card being declined? Use their introduction as an opportunity to show how the traits you described in their character bio manifest in their behavior. By focusing on what your character is doing instead of what they look like, you are also giving your roleplay partner an opportunity to respond to the situation.
Create an Opportunity for the Other Player to Respond
It is important to keep in mind that the starter you are writing is meant to be open-ended. You want to encourage your roleplay partner to engage with what is going on in the scene. As I mentioned above, having your character doing something is a great start. If your character is making a scene as opposed to just sitting around quietly, then that increases the chances of someone realistically interacting with them.
Have your character ask for help, strike up a conversation, get in trouble, or otherwise engage with their environment in some way. This allows the other player’s character to assist, answer, challenge, or otherwise react to your character.
Some people are okay with you bringing their character into the scene yourself, by having them enter right on cue, come from the right direction, or just be around for your character to trip and run into. If you’re comfortable with doing so, you can take temporary control of the other player’s character just long enough to place them in the scene. This lets the other player know exactly how their character is involved, so they know how to react more instinctively. It is important to remember, however, that not everyone is okay with this. You need to ask for permission before you do anything like this with the other player’s character. Never make assumptions about what your roleplay partner does and does not allow.
This rule sort of applies all the time. Roleplays are dependent on interactions, so every reply should contain some action, detail, dialogue, or information that provides the other person with something to respond to. If you don’t provide these opportunities, it will be harder for your partner to build on the story, and the roleplay will lose momentum.
Tips for Writing a Good Roleplay Starter
Those three points listed above are the most important aspects of a starter, but there are a few other things you can keep in mind to make your roleplay starters the best they can be. Here are some general tips for writing a good roleplay starter:
- Don’t make it too short. The starter is likely going to be the longest message in a roleplay thread, with a few exceptions. There’s good reason for that, too—the starter has to provide a lot of introductory information and kickstart the story as a whole. To do it justice, it has to be longer than just a few lines, even if the subsequent replies end up being pretty short on average.
- Don’t get lost in the details. This point is the antithesis to the point above. Although it is important to provide a good description of the setting and what is going on around the characters, you need to make sure you aren’t wasting time by focusing too much on the color of the countertops or the pictures on the wall. If you get too caught up in the details, your starter will end up being too long, and a bit of a drag to read.
- Make it make sense. Not only should your starter be coherent, but it needs to make logical sense. Your characters need to behave in ways that are realistic, and if they don’t, you need to have a good reason to justify why. If things unfold in a way that doesn’t make any sense, your roleplay partner might not know how to respond.
- Don’t force your roleplay partner’s character to act out-of-character. You should never, under any circumstances, take control of your partner’s character without their permission to have their character say something or react the way you want them to. This is extremely frustrating for your partner, and since you don’t know their character as well as they do, you risk forcing the character to behave in a way that is inconsistent with their personality.
- Remember that YOU are starting the scene. When you are writing the starter, you are responsible for setting the scene and kicking off the introduction between the characters. Don’t simply place your character and then force the other person to initiate everything. You have to be the one to set everything up.
- Don’t be too worried about impressing the other person. Roleplays are supposed to be fun. You aren’t writing a story to get it published, and you don’t have to write like a professional to have a good time. Besides, if you write a really dazzling starter, your partner will expect you to continue to write like that, so it’s better to write how you are comfortable writing from the beginning. Sure, some people can be stuck-up about grammar, but if your partner stresses you out and makes you feel like you have to write perfectly, maybe you should look for a new roleplay partner that you’ll be more comfortable with.
- Get to know your roleplay partner! Out-of-character (OOC) conversations with your roleplay partner are essential for creating a long-term story together. You don’t have to be the best of friends, but if you want to continue roleplaying with them, you should make the effort to get to know them personally. Getting to know them will also make it easier for you to craft plot arcs that will interest them, which will keep them engaged with the story.
Some Parting Thoughts About Roleplay Starters
Once you have a starter drafted out, take a moment to consider how you would feel about receiving a starter like that. Did you create a vivid description of the scene? Does your introduction do your character justice? How would you respond? What options do you have to react to it? If you can’t anticipate how someone would react in that situation, then you need to rewrite it so your roleplay partner knows what their character should do.
If you still aren’t confident you can write a good starter, you can always learn from others. When someone sends you a starter, analyze it. Determine the elements that you like about it and the elements that are difficult to navigate, then learn from that. The more starters you read, the better you’ll get at identifying what works and what doesn’t work. Then, when it comes time to write a starter yourself, you’ll know what to include.
Good luck, and have fun roleplayers!