Like most who know about the artform, I was introduced to improv comedy from the famed TV show Whose Line Is It Anyway? Despite many of the references going over my head at the time, I still found myself bursting at the seams with laughter at the off-the-cuff antics of the performers.
In high school, I was fortunate enough to participate in an improv club, where we not only played common games, but also took field trips to performances and studied techniques from professionals in the city.
At the time, I was goofing off in a cloud of gawky adolescence, ignorant to the fact that improv was not only teaching me how to think on my feet, but how to tell stories. And it clicked in my head that the beauty of improv, as well as the core of storytelling, is all about engagement. Whether you are performing or observing in the audience, improv is a hands-on experience, much like the worlds you build in your narrative and the relationship you have with your readers.
It was only later on in adulthood that I realized I was inadvertently applying these skills in my D&D gaming sessions. It started simple enough with my character creation (and giving my GMs headaches with grotesquely detailed backstories), then evolving further when I started DMing myself. Eventually, it got to the point where I threw out the rulebooks altogether and ran completely diceless campaigns.
After making this connection, I was able to apply my knowledge to large scale writing projects and develop the eyesight to become my own content editor. (NOTE: Don’t depend entirely on your own skills for content editing if you can help it. I am saying I was able to recognize enough to save work for someone else).
These skills not only helped with the writing aspect, but also the business side of being a “Competent Author™.” Elevator pitches, networking and relationships, public speaking etc. All of this can be improved upon with a little flight from the seat of the pants.
But performance, no matter how small the audience, is much easier said than done, especially if you have anxiety. With practice and a few quick, short-worded sentences tucked in your belt, you can excuse yourself from distressing and overwhelming situations:
“Hey, this was a great conversation, but I really need to be elsewhere right now.”
“Thanks for chatting! I’m headed to another appointment, but maybe we can continue later?”
Though I am speaking through my personal experience, and not everyone can find this helpful.
If you want to start off with playing improv games, try it out with a few close friends just to get a feel of the mechanics. The more you practice in a safe environment, the easier it may become for you. Remember, your replies will NOT sound polished. In fact, they will be clumsy and awkward until you learn what aspects of your personal conversation filter can be shut off at will.
And that’s okay! Improv is not supposed to be polished, it’s supposed to be messy and random. A lot of the most memorable moments can come from spouting off the first thing that comes to mind (in both good and bad contexts). Just like editing a draft, polish comes later with time and practice.
A very good first-time game is called “One Word” where a group take turns telling a story one word at a time. Put a little flair on it by adding a theme or setting to help keep everyone focused. Say you’re making a space adventure and telling the story of a first alien encounter. Or an opposing kingdom is beating down the gates to your castle, what happens next?
A quick google search of “Improv Comedy Games” will bring you a slew of options, but here’s a pair of sites with great examples to get you started:
Many games can be tailored to the fiction atmosphere, adding genre spins to suit whichever needs you want to practice. Focus on setting and character creation, or even use the Question Game (make a conversation only using questions) to practice your dialogue development.
It might be fun to introduce exercises in your next writing group meetings or convention mixers as an icebreaker. But please be mindful of those with social anxiety and be respectful to members not participating! Improv requires a certain level of trust, and some may not feel comfortable for whatever reason they may or may not feel like sharing. Do not take it personally if you get rejected, but be sure to leave the door open for those who want to try.
And on that note, another vital skill learned through improv is the ability to read the room. Improv is not just about spouting off the first thing that comes to your head. It’s also about learning the dynamics and knowledge base of the participants as well as the audience.
For example, any games involving song titles or movies may leave some players out because they are outside of the loop in popular media. It may also be beneficial to stray away from politically charged topics in a new setting until everyone is familiar with each other. It will take some experimentation to determine everyone’s comfort levels, as well as what types of games everyone excels at.
Ultimately, have fun with improv, whether you apply it to your writing or not! It’s a great way to practice interactions and storytelling while enjoying time with others both in and out of the industry. And most importantly, don’t be too serious when playing. It is comedy, after all.
And that’s it from me, don’t forget there are now TWO giveaways that feature my book Sleepless Flame that you can partake of, including some fantastic books from a variety of genres:
And if you partake in either of these giveaways and procure my book, I ask that you please consider leaving a review over on Amazon. It really helps me out being found in their algorithms. According to an individual working with Amazon’s marketing, some of the essential algorithms won’t trigger until a book has FIFTEEN reviews, so please do help out if you enjoyed the book.
The folks over at New England Speculative Writers are still running their giveaway until the end of the month featuring Sleepless Flame as well as thirteen additional titles from fantastic authors on the East Coast. Check out the link here:
And if you want EVEN MORE freebies, the group over at SciFi Fantasy Bonanza is also having a giveaway that features my book, and a whole slew of others from a huge variety of authors and genres:
That will be it, be sure you have also checked out my updated Weekly Summary Reports, since I am no longer going to be posting them in the email newsletters. I post them every Friday, and will do so until the work is finished.
Until Next Time!