A lot of people love to roleplay. I love to roleplay. I remember when Dungeons & Dragons first came out and blew the world open with the idea that adults could "pretend" just like kids. I have been roleplaying for nearly 30 years and was part of one tabletop campaign that lasted 15 years. Yes, that's real time, not game time. I have recently begun forum-based roleplay and enjoy it.
I started writing before I became a roleplayer. I devoured fiction as a teen and wrote non-stop during my highschool years. I was lucky to be schooled on how to write properly and I practiced, joined writer's groups, got critique, and practiced more. I believe I had a firm base to help me develop as a writer. Granted, even though my early days were writing fan-fiction, they were stand-alone stories. My roleplaying was "live-action" as we didn't have forums or chats to post RP threads on.
Nowadays things are different. For many people, roleplay is their first foray into writing. Is that a bad thing? No. It's simply the changing dynamics of the world. However, what is a bad thing is that many writers feel that if they are good at writing in roleplays, they will be great literature writers. That's simply not true.
If you started your writing life as a roleplayer, are you doomed? No, there are many positives to writing in a roleplaying environment. Interaction with other creative individuals is always a plus. Writing regularly, even in forum game threads, is good practice and will help you get more comfortable with the written word. Roleplaying is storytelling and it can help you learn how to work out ideas, characters, and plots. However, at the end of the day, you have to remember there are some fundamental differences in the two mediums; there are things you need to keep in mind when transitioning from roleplay fiction to writing short stories and novels.
So what are those things? Here are a few of the more important ones to help point you in the right direction:
Before I go any further, I want to stress something. I am NOT suggesting that all roleplays operate the same. I know some are succinct and have more formal writing-like structure. Please don't get upset and feel I am attacking you. These are general observations I have made from participating in roleplays, reading many different RPs, and talking to numerous roleplayers.
Roleplaying is a Game Environment: This is something that is often not fully understood. It is collective storytelling, but there is a game element to it. Sometimes directly, with the use of dice and rules. Sometimes indirectly with players vaulting surprises or challenges for the next player to get around. While there is a story going on, there is still an element of fun, and forgiveness. If the story takes a wrong turn, everyone can laugh it off and get it back on track. Writing general fiction is not so forgiving. If your story takes a wrong turn, you lose readers. You can't expect your readers to just roll with poor moves or story deficiencies. In a roleplay you can brush aside a plot hole. In literature, you can't.
Roleplaying is a "Kinda" Collaboration: This is something that I think confuses a lot of people. Yes, roleplaying is collaborative storytelling, but it not the same as collaborating on a story. Roleplaying encourages "make it up as you go along" storytelling, which is not always effective for formal stories. Plotting and story-planning, at least to some degree, are important. While some RPs promote more formal planning, the element of surprise is part of the appeal of roleplays. Particularly in a large gaming environment, an "anything goes" attitude can be taken. That can work in a roleplay, but doesn't often work well in regular fiction.
Another aspect of roleplays is that everyone owns their own characters and you shouldn't do anything that would affect another character (without their permission). In general writing, you need to think and work with all the characters. Even in a collaboration with another writer, you need to have some liberty so that the story advances. The key is the story, not "you messed up my character." When you are working on a formal collaboration, you have to remember that this isn't a game, but actual storytelling.
Collaborations can be a great and rewarding experience. Many writers coming out of a roleplay environment find it's easier to collaborate at first until they get their solo feet wet. The key to remember is that you can't view the collaboration like a big roleplay. Work together, work out issues, compromise, write each others' characters. Yes, it's great to have fun, but take the project seriously. The goal should be to have a well-written story at the end.
You Can't Ask for a Hint: You know in video games, where you can often ask for a hint to solve the game? In a roleplay, when you get stuck on a scene, it's easy to ask another player for help, or have them take their turn early to write past the trouble spot. That's not how traditional writing works. You need to figure out your own story. It's fine to ask a more experienced writer for feedback or bounce ideas off of a friend. But at the end of the day, YOU need to write the next scene. If an artist can't draw an arm correctly on a picture, they don't go and ask someone else to do it. It is not proper to ask someone else to write a scene for you. It's your story, claim ownership.
Show, Don't Tell: This is something that I feel is one of the biggest misconceptions between roleplaying and writing literature. One problem seen in many stories is the excessive use of infodumps and long verbose descriptions. In certain roleplays, it is important to get detailed. Describing a room might be necessary as the players need to operate in there. When you find a box, you may need to note every item inside, so the next player can know what their options are. While in the game these types of details are often crucial, in a novel they would be boring. Long descriptions, particularly when the information is not pertinent to the story, can cause your reader to lose interest. The same goes for character descriptions, clothing, etc. In certain gaming environments, it's okay and fun to indulge a bit and write about a character's looks and wardrobe. In a literature piece, such descriptions take away from the pacing of the story.
Character Sheets Don't Make a Character: One of the elements in roleplaying is the creation of an original character ("OC") for use in the game. It can be a lot of fun drawing up a sheet, working on a character's design and attributes. While you can use some of these same types of things for creation of characters for a traditional story, you have to remember, you have a different goal in mind. Character development is far more complex than just knowing what they look like and their history. Many roleplay characters are designed to be generic and/or work in a specific gaming universe. When you are writing a short piece or novel, the character needs to work within that story. Simply creating an OC and then writing a piece around them is possible, but it's not always the best way to do things. While it's natural to want to have cool OCs, you need to remember there is more to a good character than a fancy profile sheet.
More than Just Talk: Some roleplays, particular live chat-based ones, can often consist of a lot of dialogue. While that is great when you have several players actively participating in an RP, that doesn't often work in traditional writing. Many writers who are only familiar with this kind of roleplay turn to pseudo "script-writing," as it allows them to simply have character conversation and (erroneously) call it literature. There is more to prose than just lines of dialogue, and there is more to script-writing than just having the characters say things one after the other. Work on fleshing out a real story, with descriptions, actions, and more. Don't expect to write lines of dialogue and call it prose.
Left Turn at Albuquerque: Pacing is one of the most important things in literature. If your story goes too fast, your readers might get lost or confused. Too slow and it becomes boring. Pacing is much different in an roleplay. If the players want to slow things down and dabble in an area or focus on an issue for a while, there's no problem. Sidetracks can be fun in gaming. In a story, where the structure is different, if you get off-course too much you can lose your readers.
Mary and Gary Live Here: Most of us know what a Mary Sue is. If not, here is a great article. The truth of the matter is that Mary Sues (or Gary Stus) are not widely accepted, even in roleplaying. However, in a gaming environment, there is an element of personal fantasy. You can have a super bad-ass character or an OC that is uber-beautiful, etc. As long as it doesn't get too out of hand and you don't end up with an "all-powerful, perfect as pie" character, a bit of indulgence is forgivable. It is a game, after all. However, in writing, that's just not the case. Nobody wants to read your wish-fulfillment. An idealized character that works in a roleplay may not work in general fiction. Does that mean your OC is un-usable? Not necessarily, but be prepared to make some serious changes to the character and tone them down to more believable levels.
Lost in Translation: So you have the most kick-ass roleplay story ever. You know if you write it into a formal story, everyone is gonna love it. But, when you post the first chapter, you're told it sucks. What gives? As with many of the points here, a story that works well in a roleplay may not work in literature. At least not in its present form. In order for it to make good short story or novel, be prepared to revise and re-work the plot. Roleplays tend to be quite long. You may need to cut parts, limit the role of certain characters, or simply do a lot of editing. In traditional writing, you have to be prepared to "kill your darlings." That means that sometimes you need to drop an idea, or cut a scene, or eliminate a character you adore so that the story works better. You may absolutely love that fight sequence in your RP, but it may drag a traditional short story down.
I Wish I Had That Idea: While roleplays may be collaborative storytelling, the fact of the matter is that ownership rights, better known as copyright, still exist. While you may have participated in the game and added to the story, there may be some question as to who came up with the idea in the first place. Also, using characters which were created by your friends is a huge no-no without permission (and proper credit). Even if you get permission to write the story and use the OCs, you need to consider what would happen if you sell your work and make money off of it. Your co-players may not be too happy seeing you profit from their ideas. The best bet is to stick with ideas and roleplay stories you came up with, or simply go with original stories and avoid the problem all together.
Roleplaying is One-Shot: When you are RPing, you are playing in real-time--meaning that you want things to move or else the game halts. When the game is over, it's over. Unfortunately, writing standard fiction is not the same. Roleplay does not have a first draft, second draft, edit, final-version. Creation of literature does. Editing is a fundamental part of writing process. I have seen people who feel that it's a defect if you can't get a story right in one shot or who think that editing is for the weak. While that attitude may work in roleplaying, it does not work in serious writing. Making sure your literature is the "best it can be" means reading, re-reading, editing, and polishing.
The Roleplaying world is not the Literature world: This is something that many people won't like to hear, but it's a hard reality. Just because you're told you're a great writer in your roleplay does not mean you'll be told you're a great writer by seasoned authors. As mentioned before, roleplaying is fun, it's relaxing, it's stress-relief; roleplay provides a way for people to stretch their creativity while being entertained. The literature world is not a game. While some people write solely for fun and enjoyment, there are a great many who feel that writing is their craft and are very serious about it. They expect a level of skill and they expect that writers not only want to write, but to improve their craft. Don't expect to come into a literature chat or forum with a roleplay attitude and be taken seriously. If you write for fun, that's great, no-one is faulting you. However, if you have a roleplay attitude about writing, and don't worry about punctuation, grammar, etc., don't get upset when a more experienced writer points out your flaws. It's their job to help the community grow. If you are serious about writing beyond roleplay, and want to be taken seriously, then get serious about listening to critiques and advice. If not, stick with roleplays or personal "fun writing" and don't have unrealistic expectations of being accepted as a peer to veteran writers.
Okay, so, if you follow these rules you'll be a great writer, right? Not necessarily. The bottom line is that if you want to be a good writer you need to know the fundamentals of writing. You need to know proper grammar. You need to understand and use punctuation correctly. You need to have a strong vocabulary and know how to spell. Writing, just like any art, requires practice and study. Roleplays are more forgiving of these things. Formal fiction is not. Take some time and learn the basic rules. It may take a while, but it will be well worth the effort to see your roleplaying writing evolve into strong traditional writing.