A while ago, I wrote a blog post on how improv might help your writing. Since the essence of improv is telling a story, and making it up as you go along, the rules of this theatrical form can easily be applied to writing fiction.
DON’T START WITH A PLOT, START WITH A CHARACTER. A plot is a story that involves a lot action. A man steals a car and the police chase after him. That’s a plot. A man who is unhappy in his marriage is starting from character. A good question would be, is what makes a character? A character is a person with:
HISTORY, FEELINGS AND NEEDS.
HISTORY is what has happened in your character’s past. Let’s say your main characters is a man. He was dating a woman. She broke up with him. Then they got together again. That’s their history. You don’t necessarily have to tell your reader all of it, at least not immediately. But it helps for you to know it.
FEELINGS are how your characters feel about each other. Do they like, love, hate, fear, the other character(s)?
NEEDS are what your characters want. Such as, to stay together, to break up, to get revenge, to be noticed, to be appreciated. It could be anything they need.
MAKE IT PERSONAL. Whatever your character needs or wants should be important to him or her. Some examples: to get back together, to find love, to get divorced, to get married.
KEEP IT SIMPLE. In a given scene don’t keep adding elements. The less that’s happening, the more powerful it can often be. Let’s say the scene is about a job interview. A man walks into an HR department, only to discover his ex-girlfriend is the interviewer. Let’s say that things did not end well between them, but both still have feelings for each other. At this point, beginning writers (and improvisors) might introduce more to this scene. The police burst in. Jewels have been stolen. Someone is having a bachelor party down the hall and a stripper gets lost and wanders into the room. None of this is needed! The interview is quite enough. Trust your material. Play what you have. Don’t needlessly complicate things.
JUSTIFICATION. If you are going to introduce something in your story, you better be able to justify it. Let’s say that you introduce a monster. You better have a really good reason for it being there. One that readers will accept. Even in comic books, there is an elaborate backstory as to how a character gained his super powers. Or why he (or she) is wearing what might otherwise seem like a very silly costume. The stranger the person or thing in a story, the more of a justification you need for including it.
There are other improv principles that might help your writing, but we’ll save those for another day. Till then, keep making it up as you go along.
Thanks to authors of A Doctor, And a Lawyer In A Rowboat. If you’re looking for a great book on Improv, this is it. And yes, it’s available on Amazon.