So, I am a notorious skim reader when it comes to RP posts. Not because I don’t love all the itty bitty details, but because I got really excited to see what’s going on. Also, because let’s be honest. My character(s) have no idea what is going through the other person’s character(s) head(s), so all I really need to know at least at first glance are what physical and vocal cues I’ve got to react to. I can reread for thoughts once I get that initial reaction done. Even if I have the time and attention to read a post from beginning to end, when I’m writing my own reply, there are certain parts that I need my attention to be dragged to immediately more than any other.
The problem: most people don’t know how to format their posts for readability.
Now, some forums have rules that help with this, though how formal the rules are tend to vary. My main site only has requirements on dialogue, so I have to set it off in a specific color (usually white, or another color off of a set list if I have an NPC speaking). Others I’ve been on have required dialogue be in bold, or haven’t worried about it at all. But if my current site has rules, why do I claim that some posts are harder to read than others?
It comes down to how the post flows for the eye, something that even as writers of novels rather than of RP posts, we have to be aware of. What I mean is how much we mess around with the font of a post and in what ways we do so. Bold fonts tend to leap out at the eye pretty much no matter what (thus why it was used to help set off dialogue on my older sites). If it’s used just throughout the text at random for emphasis, that’s what my eye is going to be drawn to, even if I really need to be paying attention to something else that follows afterwards. It can be a huge distraction. The same for all caps. Bold and all caps are also used in today’s generation to indication shouting, which can make it come across as very harsh. (I know, most younger people already know this, but people like my mom don’t, so it seems like something important to mention.)
Italics are a better alternative for emphasis. They are subtler, and while reading they stand out, they don’t jump out and demand your immediate attention, ASAP. For novel writers, this is what you have to use (editors won’t let bold font or all caps go to print, pretty much universally). But it has it’s own problems. If every other word is italics, not only does the point of emphasizing get completely lost, but it makes the page look very busy. Just because italics are more subtle doesn’t mean they are completely unnoticeable, especially if you have several of them bunched up together. It gets really annoying.
Colors are another big thing to pay attention to. Nobody likes the player who uses neon pink or yellow on a white background where it is nearly impossible to read it, while at the same time, using a super dark color on black is also a really bad idea. Pay attention to how the color appears on the color of the site as a while. For example, my main site is two different shades of blue. Believe it or not, my signature purple is nearly impossible to read on it. That left me with indigo, which was a darker purple that even still on the darker of the two blues was a little iffy, or a pale purple called plum. I went with the plum for my personal font color so this way it would actually be readable. (Greens are also pretty nightmarish. Blues are easier, which seems kinda contradictory.)
How all of this goes into the site is part of what makes this a nightmare for writing. Setting off bold and italics is fine, the colors though…ugh. Some use the [color=] format, some use the [colorname] format… And the color names are just weird. They are long, they are sometimes really silly to try and remember how they are even spelled. I’d prefer a drop down menu, but there are so many different colors that it would be nearly impossible to program anything that even worked. I’ve long since gotten into the habit of doing emphasis as I go, and then when I pause to gather my thoughts or I finish, I go back through and do the dialogue color changes. Otherwise, it would drive me crazy. And I still mess it up 9 times out of 10.
These aren’t hard and set rules, mind you. In full-blown arguments between characters, I’ll use bold and all caps and italics all over the place if I feel it’s necessary. (Some of my characters are very passionate hot heads.) My Rose Weasley’s posts are often littered with italics because she gets horribly excited about just about everything. It is all a matter of character voice. But before I post something or when I’m formatting my novels, I always think about whether or not the format is going to irk somebody or be hard on the eyes to read. It’s something I think every writer should consider, regardless of the format.