Earlier this week I caught a feature on NPR about how five rules from improv can make you funnier AND more confident. As I listened, I realized at least two of the five ideas could be especially helpful to writers when drafting new work. They create an atmosphere of discovery.
As you probably know, the foremost, much-heralded, rule of improv is: “Yes, and…”
Were we in an improv group, whatever a troupe member suggested would be folded immediately into our ever-developing bit. We’d listen carefully to each other’s input and go with the flow, working as a group to grow and develop the sketch on the spot in real time.
Which is something like what I experienced with my grandson when he was three. We were sailing down a “river” (his bedroom floor) on a “boat” (blow up raft) at “night.”
Me: Look at the stars!
E: Look at the moon!
Me: I love the crescent moon.
(We pause and look at the ceiling.)
E: It’s a full moon.
I realize that last line is not a “Yes, and..” But he was listening and responding to my input and it cracked me up.
The NPR story suggests that saying “Yes, and…” to life means making the effort to listen and understand what people are saying so you can build on it, thus building empathy and connection.
In writing, especially in drafting, “Yes, and…” means going down the bunny holes as your brain suggests them; really paying attention and embracing whatever your imagination brings to the table. Where would your story go if you let it get wild? Revision is the time for shaping and cutting. Let drafting be a time of expansion, discovery. “Yes, and…”
MAKE ROOM FOR PLAY
The other improv rule from the NPR story that particularly applies to crafting a story is: Make room for play. In improv this means generating lots of pretend characters and scenarios and letting loose.
How can this impact your real life? The story cites research that shows play reduces stress and contributes to overall well-being. “Tap into your inner child!” it suggests. “When we play, we create our own world and the space to imagine how the world might look…and the hope is that this feeling of agency, power and autonomy can translate to other parts of our lives.”
This could be a description of the process and benefits of creating a story. We get to conjure up the whole shebang, to play around with the world and the characters we are creating right down to the detail of the moon.
As I think about it more, maybe it was a full moon.
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Thanks to my sister Kate Harvey McGee for the beautiful colors she painted the moons featured above — from our books Island Lullaby (crescent moon) and Little Wolf’s First Howling (full moon).
The NPR story about improv and life can be heard here.
– Laura McGee Kvasnosky