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Making your Posts Count: Vertical v. Horizontal Posting

Originally posted on RolePlayGateway.com as “Making your Posts Count: Vertical v. Horizontal Posting”, by Jag:

Vertical and Horizontal – Making your Posts Count

I’ve been wanting to post this primer for some time and I thought it would be fitting to make it my 1,000th post on the forums here at RPGateway.

We all want to be better writers than we are. That’s a given. I know that others have given their opinions and advice regarding how we can improve certain facets of our writing. Whether it be character descriptions, character development, action, plot development – you can find a guide or a Mentor with plenty of thoughts on the topic. One thing I feel passionately about and would like to offer some thoughts regarding is our need to make sure that our posts actually do something and add to the game.

When posting in a game that is on a more “advanced” level – that is, not a game that is almost entirely made of one-line posts or something of the like – every post should have a clear purpose. To that end, there are two types of posts – horizontal and vertical. Let’s dive into it, shall well?

Think of the story in your RP as a timeline drawn on a piece of paper. As the story moves along, things move up and down that timeline. Horizontal posts are exactly what they sound like – posts that describe the action and make a move horizontally down that timeline because it progresses the story. Vertical posts will often barely move the timeline at all, instead going into a great detail regarding a very specific moment. Both are useful and needed, so the questions now are: (1) How do I know when to use each kind of post; and (2) How do I write each kind?

Horizontal Posting: Use a horizontal post to tell a part of the story or to describe a piece of action. If your character is performing a task, he or she is moving down the timeline. In a horizontal post, something is happening. Time passes. This is an effective means of telling the story and moving things along. Such a post sets up a course of action to which other characters must react, contend, and adjust. Here is a very short example of a horizontal post.

Jack didn’t waste any time stepping out of the car as soon as the vehicle pulled to a stop. The moment that his feet hit the ground, the man knew there was no turning back. His made was made up and there was no more need to decide, deliberate, or talking about feelings. The game was on.

Stepping through the door of the convenient store, Jack didn’t draw much attention from the patrons or employees inside, all wrapped up in their business. No one seemed to notice as the young man dropped his duffel bag to the ground and removed a small chain. Acting quickly, Jack wrapped the chain around the only doors leading out of the store and clamping the lock shut.

Kneeling back down again, Jack took a deep breath and said a silent prayer. Then he quietly removed the pistol from the bag, pushed a young boy out of the line for the cashier, and pointed a gun directly at the face of the young lady behind the counter. Clicking off the safety, he spoke with a voice even Jack could barely recognize

“Everything in the cash register. Now.”

Even though a lot of time didn’t pass, you can see from this example what it means to move the narrative along the timeline horizontally. In a short period of time, a lot just happened there. A horizontal post in like a scene in a movie. Something happens and you can describe and follow the action.

Vertical Posting: If a horizontal post is a like a scene in a movie, a vertical post is a snapshot image. As the cliché so accurately describes, a picture is word a thousand words. A vertical post captures a single moment and provides an insightful description. Although the post doesn’t move us down the timeline, it provides some crucial insight to what is going on and is one of the most effective means of character development available to a writer. Let’s continue with our example.

The moment that the click of the gun registered in Katie’s mind, the girl could swear that time stood still. Instantly, the young woman knew that she would never forget any detail of the moment. The man that stood in front of her now couldn’t be much older than she was. His leather jacket was a bit tattered, probably a hand-me-down that shouldn’t have survived another generation

The smells around here were suddenly very intense. The gun welding man in front of her had gone a day too long without a shower, the barely-functioning air freshener next to the counter was instantly stronger than the day she’d first plugged it in. Even the faint sickly-sweet smell fro where a can of soda had been spilled that morning now filled her nostrils with absolute clarity.

This could not be happening. Two days from now, she was supposed to leave this job for good. The boyfriend she’d been devoted to for years had finally heard back from the job interview from God – a chance for the two of them to finally leave this broken down town and have the life Katie had always dreamed of living. Her mother had told her to expect a proposal any day now. Foolishly, she’d bought a wedding magazine on her way to work and stashed it beneath the counter.

God had finally given her everything she’d been patiently praying for. Now this man was threatening to take it all away.

Still, she couldn’t help but feel nothing but pity for him. After all, she’d taken this low end, thankless job to help put Mark through school. She’d made sacrifices, put everything on hold when the light seemed darkest. Katie couldn’t help but feel a great deal of sadness from the other end of the gun. How dark did it have to get to drive someone to this?

Out of nowhere, the young woman smiled with a sense of strength she didn’t know to be within herself.

“Don’t worry. Everything’s going to be okay.”

Notice that Katie’s post was almost twice as long as Jack’s. Now, what happened in that post. Katie saw the gun and smiled. That’s it. No time passed and no action occurred. Still, there was a great deal of useful content to that post. It revealed a great deal about Katie’s character and, in many ways, enhances the quality of Jack’s post as well.

A good vertical post will make a horizontal post before or after it look even better. That’s how you can write a team.

Balance is key. You can’t do all of one or another. If you only post horizontally, you are going to have every little character development and there won’t be a lot of interaction between your character and others which makes writing in a group so much fun. At the same time, you can’t always been a vertical poster. This forces the other person to always direct the action or nothing will ever happen and the story fails. Write what you know and use your judgment to decide what you post, but make sure that you do one of the other. You never want someone to read your post and think: “That was pointless.” And you

I hope this helps everyone get a little more out of their writing in their upcoming games and stories. Cue discussion!


4 comments for “Making your Posts Count: Vertical v. Horizontal Posting”

  1. No comments? Really? Perhaps this community is not quite as interested in bettering itself as I thought.

    Well, I have a comment, because I know they are nice to get.

    I think everyone has some sort of idea about horizontal and vertical posts, but it’s just not a concept at the forefront of our minds because, rather than one or the other, we too often try to write a post that covers both fronts, sacrificing the effectiveness of each for the sake of the other.

    You have put it into clear and concise words that I, and I hope many others, found very helpful. You have also stressed the importance of differentiating between the two and making posts, in relative equal number, that satisfy each category.

    So, in short, thank you for an informative and helpful RP Academy addition. I hope you find the time to write some more for us in the future.

    Posted by The Fiend | December 27, 2010, 12:12 pm
  2. The likeliest reason for the low comment-count is quite possibly that many of us are reading it, gleaning what is needed, and then feeing uncompelled to respond.

    That said, well done. A most necessary exposition. :)

    Posted by Ghost | March 19, 2011, 11:31 am
  3. Wow I never thought of posting that way. When I RP I try to apply the “show” & “tell” method (usually reserved for writing ficlets/stories in general, etc) the only thing I know. It’s similar to the horizontal/vertical posting concept, except when I post I think I try to blend in everything so it flows.

    I go for a post that moves the story along and provides an image in the reader’s mind whilst doing so.

    I’m not such a great rper and I probably suck at it (would kill for a mentor that would actually stick with me) but I guess that’s just it for me. I don’t think I can get better -that’s why all the roleplays I ever join die… I think I might just give up roleplaying altogether… Q.Q


    Posted by himekura | March 19, 2011, 11:30 pm
  4. Thanks for sharing this post, I love this website.

    Posted by Hacked Games | August 26, 2011, 2:21 pm

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