Monday, April 30, 2007

How improvisation can help with comedy writing

Improvisation = mind mapping in time and space

Last night I performed in my first ever stage performance as an actor, in the "Schlocky Horror Improv Show" run by Impro Theatre ACT. I was nervous, but once I hit the stage I focused on the job at hand and discovered doing improv is a lot easier than worrying about it.

One of the reasons I took up improvisation was to enhance my comedy writing. I wasn't exactly sure how it might help though. I've never heard of strategies one can borrow from improv and apply to writing, but I thought there might be something to it.

I was recently reading a book about mind mapping and I finally realized a connection between improv and comedy writing.

One of the core rules about improv is to "accept all offers." That means no matter what someone says or does, you HAVE TO accept that it's now part of the story and you go with it and use it.

Applying the technique of mind mapping, you start with a main, primary idea (such as a murder weapon - "pink flamingo"), and the actors build a narrative around or towards that main idea. As a story progresses, it's like branches spreading in multiple directions from the main idea: someone might add to your branch of the mind map, or they might create their own branch.

Sometimes when someone comes out with an idea, you've got no idea how it connects to your branch or the main idea, you might think to yourself, "What's that go to do with pink flamingos?", but the rule of improv is to accept ALL offers, which means that there is a connection, and if you don't see it now, your quest is to make that connection. That's part of the creative challenge of improvisation.

In comedy writing, the lesson I've learned from improv (so far) is to start with a basic idea or premise and take multiple points of view, mapping out the possible direction or related ideas that stem from the main idea, and accept that all ideas are legitimate, and even try some seemingly random ideas, but connect it somehow, someway back to the main idea.

Unlike improv, when I'm writing by myself, I have to do all that brain-storming by myself, but with a tool like mind mapping, I can replicate the seeming randomness of improvisation and still have it connect together and make sense.

I can transfer the idea of a group-acted mind-map to the page and make my own comedy mind-map.

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