Thursday, December 20, 2007

Say Yes

"Scales fell from my eyes" … a couple years ago when I learned that, in good improvisation, the actors always say yes to one another. Not a literal “Yes” of dialogue, but a creative Yes -- an agreement to openness; that whatever is offered from one actor is accepted, built upon, pivoted on, by the other. Saying yes moves the improvisation forward; otherwise, it dies.

Yesterday, while marinating on Astrapo’s comment about how to construct ideas, improvisation came again to mind. But how could a solitary writer use it to develop a story?

A few hours later, a writer-friend handed me Ron Carlson Writes a Story. Discussing first sentences, Carlson writes that, disregarding (during the writing phase) whether it’s good for the reader, a first sentence is good for the writer if it creates...

What I’ll call inventory -- there’s something in it. The writer David Boswell says it perfectly: “ ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ is not a terrible sentence from a reader’s point of view, but it is a terrible sentence for the writer because there’s no help in it. ‘Lightning struck the fence post’ is much better because there’s that charred and smoking fence post which I might have to use later.” I’m constantly looking for things that are going to help me find the next sentence, survive the story.
Say Yes to your drafts. More scales!

1 comment:

  1. I invented a trick to discover "things" that might move the story forward. First, I noticed that all such things fall into two categories. Things that are already there and things that are not there. When two characters are having an argument in a room, and I ask myself "What is already there that I have noticed or haven't noticed?" I might discover the rifle on the wall. When I ask "What is not there?" I might discover a 747, hmm.. that's right, the plane one of the characters has to catch and needs to get going.

    Ironically, I did not think of using the trick in discovering characters. Orson Scott Card does though in his book Character and Viewpoint. He asks "who should be there?" If your story has a student, there must be teachers and academic advisors. If your story has a plumber, there must be people whose pipes broke, and other plumbers to compete with.