How Improvised Comedy Helped my Writing by guest blogger, Adam Wallace
You're a children's author!!!! Awesome, well done! Seriously, this is the best job in the entire world, so welcome to the club.
So does becoming a better writer simply mean writing more, or reading books about writing for children, or going to writing workshops? Yes, it means all those things, but don't lock yourself in. My writing actually improved as much or more when looking outside children's books. How? Reading in other book genres. Reading articles on screenwriting, song writing, philosophy, psychology. Learning the piano. Meditating. All these things helped my writing, but today I want to talk about … Improvisational Comedy!
AAAAGGGHHHHHH, I hear you think! But never fear, I don't expect you to rush out and do an improvised comedy course (although it is awesome!). This isn't for everyone, but hopefully some of the lessons I learnt will help you as well, and not just for funny stories, but for any type of story.
YES, AND … - In Impro, one of the main, in fact probably the main technique used, is YES, AND …
This means that if your scene partner says or does something, you go along with it, and you build on it.
They look at it like one person has laid a brick. If you say YES, AND … you are laying a brick next to the first one. If they YES, AND … to what you put out? Another brick. Soon you have a wall.
If, however you say NO or BUT (haha butt), you're cutting off that idea, and you're making it very hard to build a wall. In fact, it's more like you threw a brick in the face of the other person's idea, and that hurts.
So how does this help in writing when we're solo? Who do we say YES, AND … to? Well, I believe we do have scene partners in our stories, and they are the characters that we are writing. Every character will give you ideas by what they say and do. Sometimes they'll surprise you, and if you go with them, if you say YES, AND … your story can go to amazing places you never imagined. It can also go to pretty crappy places, but even then, there might be one gem of a brick in that crappy writing that starts a new wall. What I find is that saying YES, AND … to my characters frees me up. It means there are no limits.
LOOK FOR THE TRUTH – One of the biggest faults of people doing improvised comedy, and I was guiltier of this than most, is trying super hard to be funny. Going for funny lines, or actions, or faces. The greatest improvisers are funny because they go to the truth, and the funny comes out of that. It's about being authentic, which I believe is possibly THE most important thing you can be as an author. Doing this has not only helped my books, but also my school presentations.
Look for the truth. Write authentically. Speak authentically. Whatever else you are going for - laughter, tears, fear – it will all come out of the truth.
AND THE REASON FOR THAT IS – In Impro, there is a lot of dialogue. Along with YES, AND … another way to keep the dialogue going is AND THE REASON FOR THAT IS. Someone tells you they're upset with you because you lied to them, you come back with Yes, and the reason I lied is … (Note: You don't have to actually say "and the reason for that is", but having it in your head prompts you).
In Impro, and with your writing, you can go anywhere with this, if you let your character respond authentically. You can have a whole conversation, a whole scene using this technique. Again, aim to get to the truth of your character. Be open to what they say, what comes out of them, and go with it. You will find out things about your character you never knew.
DON'T BE SCARED OF THE SILENCE – When you're up on stage, and your scene partner says or does something, it's natural to think you have to respond straight away. You have to be snappy, lightning fast. Yes, if something naturally comes to you and you can whip out an awesome response, that's so cool, but sometimes the funniest scenes come when there is silence. When you sit in the silence, even if you have a response. You wait, and you're still interacting, there is still connection, but the pause can build excitement and anticipation, so that when you do throw out your line, it is even more electric than if you had done it straight away.
It's the same in writing. Even in an action story, you don't have to be up, up, up all the time. Give the reader a rest every now and again. Don't be scared of silence. It will give the big moments more impact.
So there are a few ways that doing improvised comedy has helped me in writing children's books, and not only funny ones, but some whimsical ones as well. Not only that, it lifted my school presentations to another level too. So, as well learning from the children's book/writing arena, look at what other ways you can improve your writing and presenting. You may be surprised at where it leads you.
For more information about Adam and his books visit www.adam-wallace-books.com