Posted: Jul 22 2008, 12:55 PM
Member No.: 2
Joined: 18-September 07
APPLICATION WRITING FOR DUMMIES
Writing an application for a new RPG can often seem like a daunting task. There's a lot of work to be done, and when someone is going to evaluate your effort at the end of it, you might feel a little discouraged. Don't! Writing a decent application isn't rocket science, and everyone can do it, with a little time and effort. A lot of newbies look at the applications of experienced players and immediately think that they can't possibly write applications like that. The thing is, you don't have to. Of course, you can let yourself be impressed by the work of others, but remember that we are often our own toughest critic. The point of this guide is not to teach you how to write applications like mine or anyone else's, but to help you improve the skills you've already got by giving you helpful tips and tricks. Also, it's important to remember that not every part of this guide needs to be followed to a tee in order to write a great application.
Choosing a name for your character may sound like the easiest thing in the world: you just pick one you like and run with it, right? Yes, that's the way it usually goes, but there are a couple of things that should be considered first.
First, there's the matter of originality. Nothing screams 'uncreative' like using a name from a character from a famous book, TV show, movie, et cetera. Of course, an application is, in most cases, not going to be turned down on the basis of a name, but remember that the name is the very first thing people see when looking at the application, and seeing that the character is named Harry Potter or James T. Kirk is not going to make the best first impression. Are there people out in the real world with these names? Absolutely. But the bottom line is that most role players are going to raise an eyebrow at a name choice like that, and a lot of them will judge you on the basis of it.
If you really like a name you've come across somewhere, be it in a book or on TV, why not switch it up a little? Decide whether it's the surname or the first name you like best, and then combine it with another name you like. No one's going to bat an eyelid at a character named Harry Kirk!
You would also do well to remember that other players do not live under rocks. They probably watch some of the same TV shows as you, read some of the same books and watch some of the same movies. This means that it is painfully clear where your inspiration comes from if a rich and spoiled character by the name of Andrea Serena Waldorf pops up. Especially if the PB is Blake Lively or Leighton Meester. The trick is to be inspired without making it obvious that you were.
Now I'm going to do a complete 180, and warn you against originality, or rather, too much of it. In the world of role playing games, you'll come across a lot of funny names. Greek gods, mythological creatures, made-up names, foreign names that have no connections to the character's ethnicity... You name it, it's been done before, and it's usually a surefire way to make other players judge you right off the bat. Sure, you should strive for originality when writing an application, but think about it: is it plausible for the character to be called Aphrodite? Too original names are often not very believable. For instance, how many oddly named people have you met in your life? And how many 'normally' named people? Real life parents (except possibly celebrities) usually aren't looking to get their children bullied by naming them Marmalade Begonia. And from that emerges a simple rule of thumb: don't name your character a name you wouldn't consider giving your own children. Of course, this is only a rule of thumb, and there are a lot of exceptions to it, but always remember that most things about your character should have a plausible explanation, even the name.
You should also be careful when giving your character a nickname. Again, plausibility is important. It's usually a good idea to go with nicknames that are related to the character's actual name. Also keep in mind that your character doesn't absolutely need to have a nickname. Many people are never called by anything other than their given name, and often, that will be much more plausible than giving your character a 'cool' nickname, like Wolf or Shadow.
When choosing an occupation for your character, you need to consider what type of skills your character has. Make it believable. An exceedingly clumsy girl who trips over her own feet all the time, isn't going to be a prima ballerina, and a man who stutters and is afraid of public speaking isn't going to be a renowned lawyer.
Also remember to be careful when you state how good the character is at his or her profession. It's very tempting to say that he is the 'best', but keep in mind that any time you put your character in an elevated position, somehow making him or her better than all other characters, you're moving into Mary Sue territory. I'm not saying that a character who is good at his or her job is a Mary Sue - far from it - but it is perfectly possible to state that someone is great in some way without mentioning how they compare to others.
Finally, when choosing your character's profession, please remember that not everyone is a model or a successful actor or anything else that puts them 'out there' in the spotlight. The world needs bus boys and cashiers as well!
Objectivity is key when it comes to describing your character. How you see your character might interfere with the way other players want their characters to see them, and therefore, it's usually a good idea to be strictly descriptive. 'Gorgeous' and 'mesmerizing', for instance will always be a matter of opinion, and to say that everyone will agree with your assessment, is really just a diluted form of power playing.
There's a loophole though: if you really need to comment on the desirability of the feature you are describing, word it so that it's clear that it's the character own opinion. That way, you're still drawing attention to the feature, but without saying that every character should feel the same way.
The feature that is usually the most problematic to write about without moving into Mary Sue territory, is probably the eyes. Personally, I have two big pet peeves when it comes to describing eyes, and I know I share them with a lot of other players. The first one is the 'magnetic eyes' that seem to draw you in and render you unable to look away. Have you ever met a person that you simply were unable to draw your eyes away from? I certainly haven't. And really, should you be making this decision for other players? The statement says more about their characters than it does about yours.
The second pet peeve is the 'moody eyes', also known as the 'color-changing eyes'. Yes, I've heard that some people's eyes do change color, but I've yet to see it for myself, and despite trying to research the phenomenon on several occasions, I have not been able to find one single scientific article that supports its existence. Does the phenomenon exist? Possibly. Do I want to see it in an application? No. Quite frankly, it's one of the biggest Mary Sue alerts in the book, both due to it being so clichéd and also the undeniable uncertainty surrounding the phenomenon's existence. So, for the sake of your application, eyes can only change color with age, or because of illness, or they can appear to change color because of lighting or clothing.
A second tricky area regarding appearance is the height and build of your character. I would recommend that your check out this handy height and weight chart to avoid making the same mistake that a vast amonut of the role playing population makes: creating character who should most probably be in a hospital being treated for eating disorders. Very few people can pull of weighing a hundred pounds!
And, just for the record, the average height for males in the United States is 5'10.2", whereas the average height for a female is 5'4".
In my opinion, this is absolutely the hardest section to write. There is no perfect recipe for it. There are, however a few minimums that should be reached.
First, everything should be plausible and everything should be thought through. No, you don't have to write a thesis about why the character is this way or that way, but the more you think things through, the more plausible you character is going to turn out.
The most important thing to remember is that our genes and our environments are very important factors in deciding who we turn into. Consider the environment your character grew up in. Was he rich? Poor? Did he have siblings? A lot of friends? A big family? Loving parents? Crappy parents? These are excellent things to base a personality section around!
Also, think of who the parents of your character are. The statement about acorns not falling far from the tree is actually very accurate in a lot of cases. I'm certainly not saying that every character must be a carbon copy of their parents - far from it - but I'd definitely question it if your character grew up in a reasonably stable family, and still somehow turned out to be wildly different from his parents or siblings. Sure, it can happen, but why did it happen? There is always a reason.
Personally, I like to write the history of a character before I write the personality, so that I can base the personality on the history. But, of course, history and personality are quite interdependent on one another, so you should have at least some idea of what kind of person you want your character to be before writing the history as well.
Second, when it comes to personality, elaboration is your friend. It goes hand in hand with the point about reasoning, but it cannot be stressed enough. Traits shouldn't be thrown into the personality willy-nilly. For one thing, it doesn't read very well, and, more importantly, if you think something is worth mentioning at all, you should take the time to explain it properly. You're much better off with three or four well explained traits, than with ten to twenty that were all barely mentioned.
Third, it's good to think about whether you are commenting on the desirability of a trait. The same topic was touching in relation to appearance, but it is perhaps even more important when it comes to personality. Try not to assume too much about what other characters will think, because, ultimately, that's not up to you, it's up to the respective players of those characters. For instance, don't make the mistake of saying that 'everyone will love this character', because that's just unrealistic. There will always be someone who doesn't like him or her. Different people react to others in different ways: one woman might be attracted to a man because he's stable and offers her security, whereas another woman might deem the same man to be boring.
There are always ways to work around the issue of desirability. For instance, you can focus on what it is that you think makes your character likable. Is he helpful? Funny? Generous? These things will guide other characters reactions, but they don't dictate a right way of reacting.
In order to avoid the dreaded state of Mary-Sueism, every character needs flaws, and these can be very tricky. But remember that you are fully in charge of your character's personality, meaning that it's only your imagination and your willingness to make an imperfect character that set the limits.
What is a personality flaw? Basically, it's anything that's negative, either for the character himself, or his surroundings. Some flaws that are negative for the character, like being a pushover, aren't necessarily negative for the surroundings, and these flaws are often quite ambiguous. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself whether the flaw in some way helps the character. For instance, an inability to say no to people, could perhaps help the character be viewed by others as a helpful and selfless person.
Another thing you need to be careful with though, is the 'buts'. A lot of players tend to follow up a flaw with something that redeems that character. Some would say that the redeeming quality cancels out the flaw, but it usually depends on the flaw itself. If the flaw is nasty enough, very little can cancel it out. However, redeeming qualities do make any flaw lesser than a flaw with no redeeming qualities.
Apart from picking a name, writing lists is probably the easiest thing about the whole application writing process, in addition to being the one that's complained about the most. Some might think that these lists of likes and dislikes, strength and weaknesses are entirely useless. The truth is, they can be, but only if you let them. Personally, I've always found it very useful to think of these nitty gritty details about my character, and then later hold him or her to it. If it's in the lists that the character is ten minutes late for everything, make the character ten minutes late for everything. If the character loathes getting up in the morning, have him require coffee before even considering being nice to other people.
Of all the large sections, history is probably the easiest to write. It's facts, plain and simple. Open with a paragraph saying when and under which circumstances the character was born, maybe add a bit about the parents, then talk about early childhood, before moving on to starting school and the character's academic career, and so on. It doesn't need to be super elaborate: just mention all the events that made a difference in the character's life. No one cares if he had ice cream on May 12th 1994, but it is important to mention that he was married three times.
Also, it is important to remember that the history should fit the character. A gang member will have had a much more turbulent past than an accountant, and the history should reflect this. Likewise, older characters need longer histories that correspond with the time they have lived.
One final point to be made regarding the history, is drama. As role players, we probably all have a bit of a flair for the dramatic, and there's nothing wrong with that. A little tragedy can really spice up a character, but it's something you should be careful about. Ideally, each dramatic incident you put into your character's history should have a purpose, and remember that the history section and the personality section should match each other.
OTHER THINGS WORTH MENTIONING
One of the most common mistakes to look out for when writing an application, is contradictions. We've all been guilty of it at some point or another, and these pesky things can easily sneak into your application if you're not careful, especially if you write your application over the course of a few days. If you do, then it might be a good idea to read through everything you've got before you start again. That way, you'll freshen up your memory of what you've already got, and avoid mindless mistakes.
A popular question when writing an application for a new game is 'how long does it need to be?' The answer is 'anywhere over the minimum requirement' for the site you're joining. Simple, huh? Some players go above and beyond the requirement, and that's okay as long as the information is relevant. If you don't want to write more than what the template specifically asks for, then don't. The best sites always value quality over quantity.
There is one more thing I'd like to stress when it comes to length though. I already touched on it in the previous paragraph, but it bears repeating: all information should be relevant. How much of the application actually tells the reader something about the character? It is fairly easy to spot when people are writing just to write. It can look impressive, and it can even read beautifully, but in the end, it's a waste of time, because it doesn't add to the big picture. Please don't take this the wrong way, I'm not telling you to limit yourself. I just want you to think about how each sentence, or paragraph relates to your character. Does it serve to tell me something new? If you're just waxing on about something you've said adequately before - lose it! Don't worry about how long the final application is: like I said, mere length does not impress anyone, but quality does.
WHEN YOUR APPLICATION IS DONE
Once you've got your application done and ready to be looked at, there's really nothing you can do but wait. Sure, everyone wants to be accepted instantly so that they can get around to playing, but you don't want to be badgering anyone about it. That's just annoying. Most admins have lives outside their games, and they don't always have time to log on. We do try to do the evaluation as quickly as possible, so that no one will have to wait too long before getting to the posting goodness, but please, have a little patience. At Closer, we aim to look at every application within 24 hours of your posting the finished version. We're usually even faster than that, but unforeseen things do happen, and you're not really achieving anything other by badgering.
Also, please remember that nothing that is said in the evaluation is intended to hurt your feelings. We try our best to give you constructive criticism, so that you can develop your character. A well written character is going to help you in getting plots with others and we really do want you to have the best possible start. Yes, having a character that you've worked hard on picked apart can be hard, but do try to be a good sport about it. If you feel that a comment was uncalled for, make sure that you have something to back up your claim. No admin is going to change his or her mind just because you want them to. I'm certainly not saying that arguing with admins is futile, but do take some time first and think about whether there is a possibility that the admin might be right.
That being said, no one is perfect, and a reasonable admin will admit it when he or she is wrong. If you truly do disagree with something the admin said (and you're not just disagreeing because you're pride is hurt...), please explain your reasoning to me. I'll be more than willing to look at your application again. I can't promise that I'll change my mind, but I can promise that I will keep it open.
When it comes to evaluations, there is one thing that is an absolute taboo: attacking the evaluator. He or she most likely has nothing against you or you character. They're just trying to gage what kind of character you're bringing into the game. They want the characters to be as good as possible, and that's what you want too, right? If you've got something to say, there's no reason to be nasty about it, and bad behavior is certainly not going to change anyone's mind. In fact, throwing huge tantrums because you're not accepted right away is a clear indication to any admin that you're not the kind of player they want to work with.