"Geez!" you might say, "I don't roleplay, i'm all ME, all the time!"
But I tell you, you sure do. You roleplay ALL the time, and even different roles during the day and week.
Let's say your name is Jane Doe, you're mid-30, office employee, mother, spouse, daughter, friend, volunteer.
Let's start at your home. You wake your kid(s) up, prepare them for school, send them to school bus, spend a few minutes with your spouse before you head to work, work your shift, get home for a late lunch, go volunteer at a library, meet a friend, go to school for a meeting with the teachers, head home again, meet the babysitter, then you grab your spouse and go out... and the next day you all sleep in, then travel to your parents for weekend.
As soon as you're with your child(ren, you go "in character", playing the role of a mother as YOU interprete it. You're doing it differently than your mom, then other mothers you've met, so it's your own interpretation of this role.
Anyways, with your kids, you're not Jane Doe anymore, you're "MOOOM!!!" - the mother of your kid(s). Like: "Moooom, must I do that?", "Moooom, do you have to come in without knocking?", "Mooom, Can I get that phone please?", "Mooom, can my friend come over?" and so on.
You're even reacting on that title: You're "Mom", not "Jane" or "Ms Doe", and you would be angry to upset if your child(ren) ever called you "Jane", because it's inappropriate, right? And would you talk to your child(ren) the same way about the same topics as you talk to your colleagues, or your spouse, or your friends, or your own parents --- or talk with them about the same subjects as with your kid(s)? No you wouldn't.
With your spouse, are you acting and speaking the same way as with your kid(s)? Why of course not, He (or she) is not a kid, but an adult, right? Thus, you go "in character" as their "Honey" or "Darling", playing the role of an adult lover for him/her, kissing, hugging, caring. What would you think if your spouse suddenly didn't call you honey or darling anymore, but "Jane"? Uh-huh. Srz Bznz, right?
Now you go to work, and meet your boss. Would the role of a mother or the role of a lover still be appropriate now? Not at all. So you jump into the role of "Ms Doe the subordinate", and stay "in character" as long as they are in sight. "Yes Boss, of course boss, as soon as possible boss"...
Would this role still be okay when your boss is away and you're with equal-leveled colleagues? Of course not. As their team-mate and competitor "Jane the worker", you would become their plaything quickly, so you have a whole different role to play now. You must be tough and co-operative and competitive to keep your job, to avoid being mobbed or bossed around.
After your shift, you're at home, alone, spouse still at work, kids still at school - first time you can be truely "you". But hell, lunch not done, and lots to do!
So you jump into the role of the "Housewife" and cook your late lunch, clean the house a bit.
You plant yourself on the couch, have lunch while watching tv, just being "You" - suddenly you see that you have to rush to your volunteer job. You put the empty plate and cutlery into the dishwasher and head to the library.
There, you can't be your couch potato "you" anymore, nor can you be the subordinate nor the colleague, you're "Ms Doe the librarian" now, watching "in character" over the silent rooms of the library.
After a few hours you meet a friend of yours. Suddenly you can't be the stern librarian anymore, you're "Good ol' Jane" now, the happy-go-lucky girl your friend expects to see in you. You joke around, talk over some coffee, catch up a bit, get reminded of the party tonight. Then you say good bye, because you have to head to school.
There, while talking to teachers, you're "in character", yet in another role, the role of the responsible but caring business-woman "Ms Doe", similar to your "Jane the worker" persona, but with a bit "Mooom!" and "Ms Doe the subordinate" added to it.
At night you're home, you greeted your spouse as "Honey, the lover", spent time with your kid(s) as "Mooom!", prepared lunch and took care of the household as the "Housewife" - now you prepare for the party tonight.
As the babysitter arrives, you jump into a new role "Ms Doe the employer", and tell the young woman what to do. Then you go out, quickly becoming the giggly "Party-Jane" now - a mix of "Honey the lover" and "Good ol' Jane".
At night you're exhausted and drunk, and you slump on your bed, not even thinking of anything - suddenly you become "you" again.
Next day, after having been "Honey the lover", "Moom!", "Housewife", you travel to your parents - and find yourself in another role: "Jane the adult daughter". Are you acting the same towards your parents as you act towards your child(ren), your spouse, your boss, your colleagues, the library customers, the friends, the babysitter? No you don't. It's another role you play. And you stay "in character" as long as you stay at your parents. What would happen if they called you "Ms Doe"? Or "Mom"? Or treated you like your boss treats you, or your colleagues or your friends? Very much "Out of Character", don't you think?
Soo... if you already do play roles in your daily life, and know what's appropriate and inappropriate in your certain roles, what "in character" and "out of character" means - how hard can it be to play roles elsewhere, like for example in SL?
I already mentioned somewhere else, that even in the girl-to-girl talks with my Mistress, we're not "eight" and "Lexi", but i'm her slave Gem no matter what, and she's my Mistress no matter what, being called "Mistress" by me no matter what. I know she didnt like it at first, even begged me to call her by her first name once in our first girl-to-girl time - but i can't, and she respected it, and i think grew used to it.
Actually, i can't do that even when i'm online with one of my alts, or speaking with one of her alts. It's like... like your boss is always your boss even when they want you to treat them "as an equal". You just KNOW they are your boss, and act according to this knowledge.
In RP-terms, this though is called "using OOC knowledge IC" and is in most cases frowned upon.
Nonetheless "Gem the business owner" is slightly different than "Gem the slave" or "Gem the newbie mentor" or "Gem the partygirl". I can be more or less dominant with my Gorean alt "Lady Alexandra" - but when i'm speaking with my Mistress, i immediately turn into "Gem the slave". I can be rather happy-go-lucky with my handicapped RP alt "Sweet C" - but when i IM my Mistress, i become "Gem the slave" again. I can't really be OOC with my Mistress.
But let's go to actual ROLEPLAY now.
Let's say you have a teen avatar, are in a PG (or, "General") sim, in a RP school mirroring modern day RL. Now how do you act?
"Duh, like the others of course!", you say. Hm... Let's say you can rez there and you have vehicles in your inventory, like a car for example. Can you just rez it to go for a ride?
"Sure, it's SL after all" -- Erm, what? Sorry hun, but you're wearing a teen avatar, so you're supposed to act as a teen. And where did this your teen persona get the car from anyways?
"Hey I rezzed it, didnt you see?" No. All i saw was a car appearing in front of a teen, and the teen driving away with it. How old are you in this avatar?
"I'm over 18, silly!" No, inworld, in this teen avatar, you appear as a teen. That's why all I see is that you ARE a teen. Now choose an age.
"Okay, 13 then." Now would a 13y old drive a car, on school ground?
"Gosh, it's SL, you derp!" - No. It's ROLEPLAY. And you're supposed to play plausible. Or would you use machine guns on a Gor sim? Nope, or an airplane in a medieval sim? Neither.
As soon as you're in a roleplay sim, and not identifyable as a Visitor or Explorer or other OOC person, you're seen as "in character".
Teen avatar on a school sim - you must be a student, right? How old are you in this avatar? 13? Can a 13yo drive a car on a public road? And... where did this car (PLAUSIBLY) come from? I haven't seen a garage nor a parking lot nor have I seen someone else (or an automatism) drive the car to the place you are.
If you're on a roleplay sim, try to be "in character". Like you play different roles whether you're at your job, with your boss, your clients, your kids, your spouse - play different roles according to where you are in SL.
Example: If I went to a Gor sim alone without changing to the robes of a Free Woman and making my collar invisible - what would happen, if I forgot the "Visitor" tag while being there?
"Nothing", you say. "It's SL after all."
And you'd be wrong. My collar says that i'm a slave. And if i went to SL-Gor as a slave, i would become involved in the Gor RP - as a slave, as a kajira or bondmaid, which means: having to obey everyone who's a Free Person. Even sexually. And no, I'm not planning to do that. If I just changed in the robes of a Free Woman without making the collar invisible, and it were seen that i'm wearing the collar, I would be treated as a runaway slave in the robes of a Free Woman - which would be my death sentence IC'ly. And I'm not planning to play my own killing either. So, nope.
Soo...Create a character, even if it's YOU yourself, projected or mirrored into your avatar.
And then stick with this character as long as you're online with this avatar. You can't pretend to be someone else entirely anyways, you'll always stay YOU - even while playing a role.
Even professional actors give their roles aspects of themselves: That's why it's a huge difference when you see let's say Dr. Who played by Hartnell, Troughton, Pertwee, T. Baker, Davison, C. Baker, McCoy, McGann, Eccleston, Tennant or Smith - and the difference is not only in the looks. Or James Bond played by the different actors. Or... Hamlet played by different actors. Everyone of them interpretes their role differently. Same with the Jane Doe example above: Jane Doe as "Mooom!" would be her own interpretation of a mother, different to her own mother and other mothers she knows. As "Honey the lover" she would be her own interpretation of a lover, not the copy of someone else.
So, create yourself a "character" matching your avatar.
Are you wearing a male avatar while being a woman IRL, try act like a male version of you. Are you wearing a female avatar while being a man IRL, try act like a female version of you. Are you wearing a teen avatar while being adult IRL, try act like a teen version of you. With a child avatar, try act as if you were a child that age. With an animal avatar, try act like that animal would do - even if it could speak. Try acting like this better-looking, healthier, younger/older, […] version of you.
And THEN, think: What if *I* were this person who is my avatar, in this situation, in this environment - for reals? And then, BE PLAUSIBLE and blend in, and let this your "character" grow as you go.
Wherever you go in SL, think by yourself: Is what I do or how i'm dressed, or what i say, plausible and appropriate for the place? (like you prolly wouldnt go to work in RL with your Rave party outfit). Is there a way to appear as OOC when in a roleplay area? If not, try to be "in character" in respect to the RP place and its owners - like for example, follow the dress code even when there's nobody there at the moment you arrived there, or: in a church sim, try dress and act like in a RL church. In a school campus sim, try and act like in a RL school campus. In a BDSM adult sim, try act like in a RL BDSM club. In a Star Trek sim, try act as if you were part of the series or books. Try to be "in character". Always. At all times.
Or, in RP sims, make sure you're an OOC ("out of character") visitor by using double brackets when you speak to others - eg. "((hi, sorry to disturb your RP, could prolly someone help me?))" - or, better yet, contact one of the players in IM.
Don't be upset when they ignore you in the open chat. Would you want to be called out when you do something that is "absolutely not you" (hence, "Out of character")? Would you call one of your friends out if they act "OOC" - like "so not them"? No. you would spare you and them this embarrassment, and wish you would be spared it too, right?
So if you're in a RP area, and there are roleplayers, and they ignore you - watch your IMs, they might attempt to help you there.
I know it's TL'DR again - but hey, what do you expect of a writer? =)