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Thinking 'bout: Writing

Hello what is in this cup?

"Writing is a profession for introverts who want to tell you a story but don't want to make eye contact while doing it."

--John Green

This is a post in a series of posts that all starts with talking about improv knowledge. Click that to get the background, if'n ya don't already have it.

We talked about directing. We talked about acting. Here's the third blob: writing. To be clear, we're talking about the writer brain only as it applies to an improv scene.


I literally took the above picture from an elementary school website.


Because simple wins. What you say doesn't matter.

Ok, that's not true.

What I mean is we don't have to be witty. We don't have to be clever. We don't have to be poignant. In fact, what I've found is when I try to be any of those things, audiences don't like it. Don't try to "write" amazing dialogue in the moment, focus on what works to make the whole thing work. Focus on the work as a whole and you won't force moments. You'll be a good little elementary schooler following this comic sans laden diamond.

Just be simple up top, big in the middle, and simple in the end, like the diamond.

Start Small

The Lord of the Rings is an epic narrative spanning thousands of pages of text. It starts in the Shire- a simple town for simple folk that's essentially one big farm.

Start small. Yeah, give us the "who, what, where," but trust everything else will happen later. Give us grounded, believable scenes. Give us characters we love. Give us catch phrases to say later without even knowing you gave them to us. Give us threads to pull, not sweaters.


Make an entire language that one race of your characters speak and then make a heroic party consisting of only one of those races.

Ok, don't go that far.

But do expand! Pull those threads! Blow out those scenes! Expand your story to the margins and beyond. Heighten like you've never heightened before and trust that it will all come together in the end. Let your imaginations run free without a care in the world!

Just make sure you're using those catch phrases and specifics you gave yourself in the beginning!

End Small and Connected

End in the Shire. This is, without a doubt, where the real skill of the Writer side of improv comes into play. Wrapping up a set is not easy. It's almost always forced, but wrapping up is essential to great improv.

In my experience with both writing and improv, I've found I'm often surprised when "great" happens. I didn't know that's how the set would wrap up. I didn't know that's where I'd take the character in a short story. It just happened, and it made sense. Whether I liked it or not, it was "right."

When it's right, you'll know. This is incredibly unhelpful advice, but in the end, the real job of the writer is just to trust. Perhaps slightly more helpful is this advice: the more specifics you've left yourself along the way, the easier it is for you to trust.

Let's put it this way: no one's terribly surprised that Frodo throws the ring into Mordor at the end. Nor are we surprised that Gollum jumps in after it. If you were the improvisers in that scene- after almost nine hours of material leading up to that point-you'd know exactly what to do.

What Writing all Boils Down To

Look, I had grandiose plans when I outlined this post in the beginning to talk to you about genres, the rule of threes, plot, all that stuff. I ultimately decided it's more than what you need to be thinking about while you're also trying to direct and act. So, here's writing:

Be specific and convincing up top. Throw a ring in a fire place and read the writing.

Play in the middle. Fall in love, fight for what's right, go f*ck up an Orc factory with some tree people who will barely matter later.

In the end, trust and rely on what worked before. Throw the ring in fire.

So, I've been thinking 'bout writing...

Have you seen or read any of The Lord of the Rings?

If you're into the blog, check out my podcast with Kerri Shannon, Gettin' Biggie with It. We interview a new member of the Baltimore Improv Group every Thursday! Get it where you get your podcasts!