When it comes to writing the Bonds of Blood & Spirit series, the collaboration Wendi and I share is one part planning and one part improvisation. This isn’t saying we totally “pants” every book we write. Our improv occurs inside the actual writing.
Wendi and I don’t work like most collaborators do. We rarely write alone. We won’t assign whole chapters to each other and wait for one person to finish before the next person jumps in. Nope, we always write together, in real time. Even the conversations between characters are done on the spot between us. We do this by writing all our drafts in a Google Document and sharing it between us.
This is improvisation. We’re in character, reacting as our characters, and never knowing what each other’s character is going to say next.
What I find so refreshing about improv is the way it challenges creativity. Often, thinking of responses on the spot makes the story so much more fresh and exciting. The structural boundaries you set out for yourself with your plot and scenes gets your brain thinking around these self-imposed obstacles.
Improv Tips and Tricks:
- No Second Guessing. Forget about the perfect line or paragraph. Many writers spend far too much time sweating over perfection, constantly over thinking and dreading the thought of committing those words to paper. You know what? So what if the words don’t come out right the first time. That’s what “delete” is for. When you play with improv, the idea is don’t think. Just do. Go with that first response, see where it leads. If it doesn’t work when you read it later, go back and fix it.
- Flip That Script. Stuck? Try removing one element of your story and replace it with something else. Flip it around, turn it on its ear. Explore a new perspective.
- I Am Joe’s Big Toe. Want to really get into a character’s head? Try writing one in the first person. This worked out well for us in Uncivil Wars. We knew we wanted to do some background on Diego, so I started writing him in first person one day while I sat outside with a notebook at the coffee shop. I had never fleshed out his life before, and once I started writing whatever came to mind in his voice, the rest fell into place. It worked and we used it.
- No Is Not An Option. In acting, “no” is not allowed. Someone asks you a question, you have to say “Yes” and add something more to it. This keeps the improv session going. Say no, and where do you go with it? Nowhere. The same applies in improv writing. Don’t say no to any idea. Follow it, add to it and see where it goes.
- Raise the Stakes. Conflict stokes the fires of any story. Throw in a new curve and then throw in another. This is especially fun for Wendi and I since we never know how we’ll react to any given conversation between characters. In Loyalties, we interrupted a conversation with a particular phone call that changed the course of the story.
Have you ever tried creative writing improv? Any of these exercises are doable if you’re writing solo, but they’re so much more fun when you do them with someone else. Go ahead, grab a partner, open a G-doc and have at it. Start with a simple premise and take turns writing paragraphs. Then come back here and tell us how you did!