Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Coming from Theater (improv)

This is going to be another strange monkey post. As in, "I'm not like the other monkeys," or at least many of them. I didn't come to writing from English, or Creative Writing, or even Script Writing. I came from theatrical performance with a heavy emphasis on improv. I worked the Ren Fest circuit for a year or two and made my living (if you could call it that) by performing. There seem to be a couple of places where this background either informs or drives my take on writing in a very different direction from what I see in many other writers process posts.

First, rejection and bad reviews. I don't much like them, but they don't get to me nearly as much as they seem to get to many other writers. I think that's because I've bombed on stage and failed pretty spectacularly at auditions. I've been rejected personally. Me. Not my written work filtered and refined and sent out, but me, in the flesh and immediately. In improv you can't even blame bad material, because its yours and you're making it up on the spot.

Second, I don't have a preconceived idea of what the perfect finished product will look like. Jay Lake has an interesting post up about this over here. When I start a story or a novel it's like a guided improv. I know my situation and my punctuation points (things that have to happen for the story to work). I even have a pretty detailed outline. But I don't know how exactly I'm going to get from scene A. to scene B. and I don't know how I'm going to play them, poignant, bitter, darkly funny. That's all business figured out on the fly and enormously fun to write. My end product is usually much better than my initial idea because that idea was never anything more than a carefully crafted skeleton to hang all the bits on, and just going by the skeleton you may be able to tell what the species is, but its hard to say whether you're going to get my great aunt Hattie or Michelle Pfeifer. Also, because its improv, if I started over again from square one, I know that I might end up with Ethyl Merman instead.

Anyway, there's nothing superior or inferior about my process. It's just different enough that I thought it might be worth noting. There are a million ways to tell a story, all of them equally right or, I suppose, equally wrong.

So, thoughts on the perfect image of a story? Rejection? Reviews, good, bad or indifferent? Strange monkeys?


Unknown said...

Wow, nicely put. I'm pretty much an improv writer as well (and am reasonably good at the real thing), but it would never have occurred to me to think of it that way.

Kelly McCullough said...

Thanks, Jay. Your post got me picking away at an idea that's been hanging around the back of my head for years. I'm glad you find the results interesting.