There are three basic ways to approach your roleplay experience. You can roleplay in an immersive environment, you can roleplay in a story-based environment, or you can experience a guided roleplay experience. The three aren't mutually exclusive, but most roleplay "troupes" tend to incorporate at least one of the styles.
Immersive roleplay is very straightforward to explain. In this method, you enter the game and take on the role of your created character.You portray his or her emotions through the local emote channel and through speech, and you react to other characters as events take place. It's fairly rare for a deep-immersion roleplayer to plot out future events for a character, since this free-for-all style tends to be mostly off the cuff. In the world of roleplay, immersion roleplaying is the improv style.
Story-based environments are more common among smaller cliques of roleplayers. In this highly collaborative roleplaying style, multiple roleplayers attempt to create a shared story. These stories can be highly complex and involve dozens of characters and NPCs. Conversely, they can actually be pretty simple. Simply agreeing with another person that you might "have our characters fall in love" can be considered a story arc. A hallmark of story-based roleplay tends to be online forums like RP Haven, where players share fictional accounts of their stories from their characters' perspectives.
Lastly, guided roleplay is the most traditional form of gaming roleplay. A great example of guided roleplay is getting together with a dungeon master and firing up good old-fashioned game of Dungeons & Dragons. This method is least common in online gaming, since it can be very difficult to narrate and control a tabletop-like experience as a dungeon master in an online world. That being said, though, I've seen many people pull off the task, and it can be just as rewarding to run a game through WoW as it would be over a kitchen table.
Once you've been able to find a roleplay group and sorted out what style that group uses, you'll be able to focus a bit more on your character. There are little quirks of your character you might want to change at this point. For example, if you're in an immersive group without much story-based direction, then it might help to keep your character as straightforward and basic as possible. By comparison, if you're going to play with a story-based troupe, that's a good time to try out a little more unique concept that would otherwise be frowned upon.
Getting your RP on
OK, so you've got a group to roleplay with on a pleasant Saturday night and you've got your character ready to go. So, how do you actually do the deed?
First, remember, you're pretending to be the character. So whenever you emote or speak to other characters, you should be doing so through the perspective and personality of your own character. If for some reason you want to communicate out of character, you should clearly display the out-of-game nature of the communication. Most roleplayers display out-of-character communication in double parentheses. For example, they might type ((Hey, there, Bob! What's up?)).
Physical actions belong in the emote channel (accessed with the /em command). Most groups use say and whisper for speaking between characters, although I have seen plenty of people use party and guild chat to achieve some level of privacy.
Use physical emotes to display important information other roleplayers will need to know about your character. You can also use emotes to enhance your roleplay by underlining important factors. For example, if your toon is crying, you should display that to other players. Just be careful with emotes; it's very easy to turn into an emote addict and do it way too much.
In terms of the actual writing involved in communicating your actions, I can only say that every player has his own style. When I'm roleplaying, I try and keep my language simple and clear; after all, I am trying to communicate. Arcane language can often obfuscate the information and that doesn't help me act out a story.
Go for it
The most important thing in learning how to roleplay is to just go do it. Everyone has a unique style of roleplay, and diverse groups come together to form and even more unique mix. Don't get wrapped up in doing it "right" -- just get out there and give it a try.
All the World's a Stage is your source for roleplaying ideas, innovations and ironies. Let us help you imagine what it's like to sacrifice spells for the story, totally immerse yourself in your roleplaying or even RP on a non-RP realm!