As writers, staying inspired is one of our biggest challenges. Sometimes the juices stop flowing, and you’ll try anything to get your mojo back. There are many different techniques writers use to stimulate creativity, such as brainstorming, reading, going on an adventure, and meditating. Some techniques are conventional, while others are unusual.
One of the most unconventional methods is roleplay … or so I thought. When I was in grad school studying negotiation, often my professors would have the class roleplay a scenario so that we could practice different tactics that we had learned in class.
Roleplaying allowed me to become someone else, a character. I improvised every aspect of the character—their personality, the way they talked, background information, storylines—and tried to use this character that I created to my advantage to negotiate the best deal with my classmate.
Not only was it fun, but as the character, I could try different negotiation skills that I wouldn’t try as myself because they’re not my personal style. My character, however, did not have any reservations about the tactics used. Through roleplay, I was able to improve my skillset and practice other negotiation strategies that I wouldn’t have otherwise.
Roleplaying can help you generate inspiration for your writing, too.
Out of all of the methods I have tried, I have found that roleplaying helps me to embody the character or story you want to tell, making the words fall onto the page effortlessly. Not only can roleplaying be used as a mechanism for stimulating creativity in writing fiction, but it also can be used in other types of writing such as nonfiction and copywriting. Let me explain what roleplaying is and how you can use it to spark creativity in your own writing.
What is roleplay? Roleplay is “pretending to be someone else, especially as part of learning a new skill.” Roleplay is typically used in a teaching and learning environment because it has been found that by a student taking on the role of someone else, the student is able to self-reflect and reach a more cognitive relationship with what is being taught.
However, roleplay can be used in other settings such as for training, to prepare for an unpredictable situation, and to test ideas. In training, it is used to act out the behavior or skill that you are learning so that you begin to get a feel for what that experience is like.
When preparing for an unpredictable situation such as an emergency or customer service interaction roleplay is used to practice communication skills, actions that you would take, and ways of improvising quickly. To test ideas, roleplay can be used in front of an audience to present a pitch or new concept. It also can be used to test new skills in interactions with others.
You may have used roleplay in some of these ways before. In these instances, a situation is being acted out in order to test something or see how you or others react in a specific scenario. This same principle can be adapted to test a script or fictional story or to create a slogan or tagline.
When used in a learning environment, a scenario is presented, and each character in the scenario receives different background information that allows the person acting out the situation to have some direction with where to go in the roleplay. It would work similarly if you were to use roleplay to stimulate creativity for your writing.
The scenario would be the setting of the literary work you have started or are looking to begin. It is the boundaries by which the roleplay will take place. Let’s say you are writing a story about two sisters.
The scenario would look something like this:
Jessica and Sarah are sisters. Jessica is 31and lives in Los Angeles. She is an actress and playwright. Sarah is 25 and lives in New York City. She is a publicist. Their relationship has been strained over the last few years because of hardship their parents have faced, and each sister blames the other. A big birthday is coming up for their mother, and Jessica and Sarah need to work together to make their mother’s birthday one to remember.
Now that you have the scenario, act out the scene. There are a few different ways you can do this. You can play one character and have a friend play the other, you can have two friends act out the scene for you, you can play both characters, or you can try more than one of these approaches. If you were to have this scene acted out in multiple ways, you would be able to see the different versions or directions you could take in your writing.
In this scenario, the expectation is that Jessica and Sarah do not get along. When acted out, the result could be that the sisters are able to come together to plan a special birthday for their mother, or the result could be that they have an argument and are not able to put their differences aside.
When roleplaying, you never know the direction that the characters will go in. It allows the characters to create the outcome for you. Then, you have the option of using the outcome from the roleplay or using the outcome as inspiration for another outcome that you will create.
When using roleplay to stimulate creativity, it is important to allow the roleplay to take on a life of its own and then write. The purpose of the roleplay is to allow the scene and characters to develop. Your mind must be clear and open to all possibilities.
It can be difficult to keep your mind clear and open if you have been immersed in a piece of writing for some time and have a specific direction or idea that you feel would be perfect for it. In the end, you might end up using that original concept, but in order for the roleplay to inspire you, you need to take a step outside of the material and allow the scene to play out.
Once the scene has been acted out, you have decisions to make. Which version will you use, or will you not use any of the versions that were acted out?
It is important to note that the roleplay is meant to be used as a source of inspiration. You might use pieces from the roleplay, you might use all of the roleplay, or you might not use any of the roleplay. The way in which the scene is acted out could give you a different idea that you had not thought about.
Let’s say in the scenario with Jessica and Sarah that in the end, the two sisters decide that they will both be on their best behavior for their mother’s birthday but that their father will be responsible for all of the planning; or maybe Jessica and Sarah have an argument, and then they come to an agreement, and then Sarah makes an off-color comment and the two sisters argue again.
As the writer creating this scene, I can decide that I still want to work on the outcome of the conversation between the sisters. The roleplay allowed me to see that there is more to the relationship between Jessica and Sarah, and I might decide that I want to explore that more. Maybe I want to really define their relationship and dive deeper into their childhood and upbringing. The roleplay could take you down a path that you did not necessarily see as a possibility.
In one of the first roleplays I participated in, I was so dedicated to the performance that when it was over, I completely forgot the way that the conversation transpired. I remembered some of the interaction, but I lost the nuances, and that can be the most important part of what took place. It can be a subtle inflection in someone’s voice or body language that is missed that could make the story come together for you.
Whether you are participating or others are acting out the scene, my suggestion would be to record it. This way you can relisten or watch the roleplay back as many times as you would like. If recording the roleplay is not an option, then take notes that you can reference later on. Being able to go back and revisit the ways in which the characters interacted will be helpful for you. Another recommendation is to have each participant write briefly at the end of the roleplay about their feelings, thoughts, and reflections as an addition to the recording and to offer ideas for how the characters may be feeling or thinking.
I started using roleplay as a means to practice negotiation skills, and now I use it to help me conceptualize the scenes in the stories that I create. Taking different scenes from your writing, whether fiction or nonfiction, can be acted out to help you develop the characters and story. Allow the roleplay to take on a life of its own, reflect, and then write. This will give you time to consider your options. We all work differently, and ideas can be sparked from something you read, or saw, or heard. What works one time could also fail the next and that’s OK too. Finding and keeping creativity is a continuous process. Sometimes just by trying another way can be all the inspiration that you need.
Jennifer Manghisi is a senior strategy, business improvement and transformation professional currently working at Columbia University in New York City. She is originally from Long Island, NY. She received a Bachelor of Science from Bentley University in Business Management and a Master of Science from Columbia University in Negotiation and Conflict Resolution. Writing is one of her passions and she enjoys freelance blogging and writing projects. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.