Improvised Writing With a Group

A Guest Post by Kate Harlow

Pretending Your Way into Writing

As an improviser I have a desire to write, but often struggle with writer’s block, or simply a short attention span for any one project. My mind functions best in a fast paced, spontaneous manner, so any time I sit down with the intent to work on a project the way I was taught in school (Brainstorm, Outline, Plot out Characters… etcetera, etcetera) I’m lost. The best way I can write is with other people.

Improvising as inspiration for writing is very common, it is a method used by both The Second City, and The Upright Citizen’s Brigade, just to name a few. The short lived UCB tv show was sketch comedy that was developed through improvisation, as are the shows put on at the various Second City locations across the country. When you get together with a group to do some writing do some group brainstorming. As a group pick which ideas sound like fun, and do some improv. This way everyone gets an opportunity to get their ideas on the table, and when things get written up no one has hard feelings about what ideas did or didn’t get used.

Many think that improv doesn’t give room for well developed characters. Sadly this is the case with poorly done improv. Well done improv can birth some of the most well developed and multifaceted characters you will have the privilege of meeting. The following are some exercises that are normally used as improv games, but can very helpful as a writer.

Character Roulette

In the game of Character Roulette you will have players performing an ordinary scene, but at any point they can be instructed to swap places with each other, taking on each other’s characters. The objective of this game is to take on the character established by your fellow player and heighten it. This exercise is helpful because in heightening the characters, you find their perspective as well.

Tag-Team Monologue

The game of Tag Team Monologue can be used as a stand alone game, or as a long form show opening. The players will speak on a subject as a character, tagging each other out to take over, but continuing on as the same character. As the game continues on the tagging should move faster, and even mid-sentence, mid-word, mid-syllable. When taking over the new player should pick up where the previous player left off. This exercise helps to add detail and expand the character in ways that one person alone may not have, as well as encouraging listening skills, which are key to success when working with a group.

One parting gift, the one note that I give and love to get all the time. Follow the fun. When you find an idea that you find fun pick it up and run with it. Allow that to be the important thing, and let it take over. If it’s fun it can be the most important thing. Best wishes to you all.

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Kate is an improviser in North Carolina, with the DSI Comedy Theater. She enjoys reading, sunshine, dinosaurs, and Doctor Who.

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3 Responses

  1. I love the idea of character roulette. Great posr.

    • Nathan Barra says:

      I agree, Donna! It was one of my favorite games when I played with an Improv troupe. It get’s remarkably difficult after a few rounds, but was very rewarding.

    • Kate says:

      Thanks! It’s a super fun game, the idea works best if all of the players all have very different characters, so each time you see them swap everyone is stepping into a hugely different energy or status from where they started.

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