By: Braeden Etienne
At first glance, it doesn’t seem writers and improvisers have a lot in common. Improvisers can just jump on stage and do their thing. Meanwhile, writers will sit still and silent for hours at a time, alone at their desk, just trying to come up with a half-decent first paragraph....
However, if you were to look at the writing credits of some of your favorite TV shows, you’d find a lot of people who got their start as improvisers. Maybe Hemmingway wasn’t the “yes-and-type” but it’s more than coincidence that so many improvisers also make great comedic writers.
Maybe the secret to writing better is trying NOT to write.
There’s nothing like spontaneity to help you blow past writer’s block. As harrowed writers, we can spend hours sitting in front of a blinking cursor, cursing ourselves for our lack of creativity.
Performing improv forces you outside your regular thinking patterns. With no time to think, there’s no time to psych yourself out. The end result is completely unfiltered creativity spilling out all over the stage. A good improv scene could be the writing prompt you need to shake stiff creativity loose.
Many comedic writers will improvise while writing to shake up the script writing process. The more natural back and forth of improv can add a more genuine element to the writing process. When you improvise, things actually do write themselves.
Improv Hones Your Voice
The only thing you have on that improv stage is you (and your friends). Those scenes will have to come from somewhere, so it looks like you’ll be using your own experience. Perhaps you thought your vast knowledge of off-brand grocery products would never come in handy, until you do a scene where you are the underdog grocery bagger defeating a Supermarket Cyclops in a battle of wits.
You’re among a select few who can note the subtleties of Cheerios and Oatie-o’s. The individuality and creativity that shines through while improvising is the same stuff that gives you a voice as a writer. The only difference is, improv plops you on a stage and rips that voice out of you like an exorcist.
Improv Makes You a Story-Teller
Telling a great story is the difference between good and bad improv. It’s also the difference between good and bad writing. Writers and improvisers need to develop the same story-telling skills like creating dynamic characters and relationships, finding engaging ways to move the action forward, and justifying behaviours and emotions.
In both writing and improv, characters don’t need to tell tons of jokes to be funny. If you have a strong idea of who your character is, with a strong “game” in the scene, the story and the funny will come naturally.
In improv you become a character, discover your emotional state, desires, attributes and act upon them. It’s a process you’d never have sitting at a computer screen. Next time you write, try to actually act as your character would act or improvise a line of dialogue out loud. Have your character say “yes, and” instead of a simple “yes, or no.” Your stories and sketches will go to some new and wonderful places.
Learn How to Edit and Be Edited
Let’s face it, some writer-types can be a little too solitary for their own good. Improv is a way to share ideas with a creative group of people who are eager to collaborate, heighten and mine your idea for what’s most specific and interesting about it. Improv teaches us how to accept offers from others, be bit less precious about OUR ideas and just let go.
Most writing jobs on comedy shows and TV will involve working with other funny people. There’s a reason for this: writing is better when it’s edited. Improv scenes get better when you include other people’s interpretations. The same happens with writing.
The author’s mind is their best friend and worst friend at the same time. Performing improv forces people outside their head into a world where spontaneous story-telling is the only way to survive.
At the very least, pale writer-types like me could use the sunshine and the friends. Improv-ho!