PLOT, SETTING, PREMISE. WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
Something I see so often with roleplays is the miss-use of the word ‘plot’. This idea that every roleplay needs a plot has led to some pretty big misconceptions of what the word plot means. So I am here to do my best to clear that all up. Let’s start first by getting this out of the way first. Not every roleplay needs a plot. What a lot of roleplays are calling a ‘plot’ these days, can actually fall into either the ‘setting’ or ‘premise’ category- sometimes both. In order to work out which of these three your roleplay actually needs, you need to understand them all. The following definitions will be in literary terms, because let’s face it here, what we are doing is literary. Or, it should aspire to be.
I’m going to start with setting, because this is actually not the optional one. Every roleplay needs a setting in order to give a context to things. So, what is a setting?
‘In works of narrative (especially fictional), the literary element setting includes the historical moment in time and geographic location in which a story takes place, and helps initiate the main backdrop and mood for a story. Setting has been referred to as story world or milieu to include a context (especially society) beyond the immediate surroundings of the story. Elements of setting may include culture, historical period, geography, and hour.’
So, what does this mean for a roleplay? The setting of your roleplay is actually the most important element, that a lot of roleplay creators look over. Your setting will dictate just about everything else in the roleplay, so it really should be considered first, or at least be considered very carefully and aligned with your plot. To be perfectly honest though, you will find it much easier to write a plot when you know your setting inside and out, because you will know realistically what will and won’t fit into your setting, and how the events of your plot will be preserved in context. For example, a brutal murder will be preserved differently in 1940’s Chicago than it would in 1970’s south Hampton.
What elements go into the setting of a roleplay?
Research your setting. I cannot stress this enough. Even settings that are fictional still need to be researched. If your roleplay is set in a fictional city ruled by fictional mafia, you still need to have a strong understanding of mafia intricacies for it to be realistic. If your roleplay is set on another planet, take your queues from other works of science fiction to ensure you are creating a full and three dimensional world. A lack of research at a setting level can make or break your whole roleplay.
This isn’t a word you hear a lot in roleplays these days, but I feel like more people opt for a premise over an actual plot than realize. Which is not a bad thing. A premise is a perfectly legitimate tool to use when creating a roleplay. And actually, can lead to some very interesting twists.
‘”The premise of a [film/literary work] is the fundamental concept that drives the plot.”
So, what does this mean for a roleplay? A lot, actually. There are a lot of ‘rp genres’ that are actually, to get really technical, another broader genre with a specific premise. I’ll give you some examples.
Those are just a few that come to mind that have spiraled into genres themselves, but here are a few other popular things that get used (without realizing most of the time) as a premise
To further help understand this concept of premise, let’s look at The Hunger Games. The premise of the first book was the arena battle, in which characters are pitted against each other and must fight to the death. The ideas I’ve listed above are ones you see most often, but honestly, your imagination is the limit when it comes to premise. Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. Even ‘gimmicky’ things might actually serve as a decent premise if done the right way (for example, the notion of soul mates, plots or characters based on songs, other incarnate roleplays). Does your roleplay need a premise? Not necessarily. It depends on the story you are interested in telling. I would consider thinking about a premise though for a more character driven, setting only roleplay, as it might give your rp an edge to others similar.
So here we are, down to the big one. To the thing people expect to see on your roleplay. The thing that’s actually a lot of the time just Setting and Premise labelled as plot. So, What is a plot?
‘Plot is a literary term defined as the events that make up a story, particularly as they relate to one another in a pattern, in a sequence, through cause and effect, how the reader views the story, or simply by coincidence. ‘
Let me irritate here: Not every roleplay needs an over-all plot. In fact, I would argue that most of what is called a plot these days can fit easily into setting and premise, and that roleplay should be character driven. However, in order to be at least a little objective, lets unpack this idea of plot in terms of roleplaying a little.Plot, by definition, has a beginning, middle and end. If your roleplay is going to give your roleplay a plot, I suggest starting in the middle. Set up the beginning as a good solid back-story, a context for what his currently happening. For example, if you want a post apocalyptic mutant uprise roleplay, the beginning will be whatever lead up to the apocalypse. Outlining this will make sure everyone is on the same page. The middle is the start of the uprise, the complication, happening in there here and now of the roleplay. The end, well, giving an end to your plot suggests having an expiry date on your roleplay, and I just don’t think that’s ever a good idea.
When thinking plot, be clear on the difference between a plot, and a premise. The premise is the concept, the plot is the series of events. If you’re struggling with an actual series of events, maybe all you need is a concept? Maybe just the exploration of individuals in that setting with that concept is enough. Don’t try and cramp too many ideas into it.
CAN I WRITE MY SETTING, PREMISE AND PLOT (IF NEEDED) ALL INTO ONE ‘ABOUT’ PAGE? Yes. Absolutely. As long as you are clear in your own mind about what you need to be discussing, and are conscience about it, there is no reason why all of these elements cant flow nicely together. In fact, a lot of aspects will connect, if you are cohesive with all three. However, exactly how to write it, is another guide for another time.