Coming from Theater (improv)

This is going to be another Kelly is a 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 Ren Fests for a decade and rode the circuit for a year or two. 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 hit me nearly as much hard as they 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. There is no platonic ideal of the story in my head that I have no hope of living up to. When I start a story, even one of novel length, I’m essentially doing 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 exactly how 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, if you just go by the skeleton you can 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.

(Originally published on the Wyrdsmiths blog January 24 2007, and original comments may be found there. Reposted and reedited as part of the reblogging project)