“Yes, And…” Improv and Writing
What does improvisation have to do with writing?
When we sit down to write, we don’t always know what we will say. Often, I only have the beginning thread of an idea, a vague notion of where it will lead, and all I have is some emotional certainty about the point I’m making. For instance, when I sat down to write the first draft of this article, all I had was the certainty that improv and writing are intimately connected, and the certainty that this knowledge could help writers.
But first a word about the fear of acting and improvisation. I recognize that most people are afraid of improv, acting, and public speaking. I hear you. I was too, until I took an acting class and practiced many games designed to loosen us up. For example, there was the game where the teacher tossed each of us a ball and we had to name a color or an object that no one else had yet mentioned, then toss the ball back to her.
We also played many games where one person said a line and the next person had to follow with “Yes, and…” and continue the sentence or scenario.
YES, AND is a tool drama and improv teachers use and is the basic premise of improvisation. To keep the momentum going in a sketch, you learn to respond to each line spoken to you with a “Yes, and….,” either out loud or internally to further the dialogue.
As a writer, I find this tool very useful and I hope you will too. One of the ways the YES AND tool can help us writers is in helping you write your first drafts. As I’ve written several times, in this blog and on another one, writing in short timed bursts can help you overcome writer’s block and get the words on the page. Using the YES AND tool can help you generate content.
As you write, say YES to each sentence and ask WHAT ELSE? Allow your mind to generate lots of options and write them all down in your short burst of writing.
Editing & Rewriting
Another place the YES AND tool can help you is during rewrites. I often edit and rewrite my nonfiction 2-3 times, and my fiction 10-20+ times. The mindset YES AND validates the scene I’ve written. And I if don’t like what I’ve written for some known or unknown reason, I ask myself, “And what else?” How can I replay this scene differently, either from a different point of view, or with a different emotional motivation or goal? Acting and improv class helped me loosen up as a writer and not be afraid to do multiple “takes,” i.e., drafts of my writing.
Oops! I Made a Mistake
Like life, improv doesn’t always go as planned. Sometimes what comes out falls flat. When it does what do you do? Run from the room in embarrassment? Well, that’s an option. The shame of making a mistake can haunt us for the rest of our lives, and prevent us from living fully.
Or, we can integrate improv techniques into our lives, and in our writing.
If our writing falls flat, on your ears of the ears of your readers, then use the YES AND mindset and try again.
That’s the beauty of a first draft and writing on a computer of improv. We can play with it until it’s right, or as close to right as we can make it.
The next time you are called to write, allow yourself to move into the playful spirit of improv, and see if the gentleness and lightness of play can cast a new light on your writing moment.
Beth Barany uses these techniques and more in her products, courses, and one-on-one coaching. Click here to learn more.