So you’ve got an idea! That’s great. Improv is all about making offers, and writing fiction involves following a stroke of inspiration from one point to the next until you’ve created a thing. It’s fun to create things, and it helps to have a plan. But just like a vacation that’s been scheduled down to the last minute can be stressful, adhering to a strict agenda in your creative work can be stifling.
In improv, you have to be willing to either kill or adapt your ideas based on the offers of your scene partner and the needs of the story. For example, during my grad show at Dad’s Garage, I was in a two person scene inspired by the word camping. My scene partner lay down on the floor like he was in a sleeping bag and closed his eyes. Assuming I was his girlfriend, I knelt close beside him.
“Morning sunshine,” I said.
“Good morning, Mom!” he replied.
And just like that, I became his mother. I had to let my idea go and adapt to this new role he had assigned me.
In improv, the main negotiation you have to do is with your scene partner. Everything is happening quickly, live on stage, and you’ve got to align your ideas with your partner’s to move the scene forward. Writing fiction, in contrast, is a much longer process, and one where you generally call the shots behind closed doors. Still, there are a couple of ways that becoming overly invested in an agenda can hinder your writing.
First, if you’ve outlined and planned every step of your story, then you might resist making changes when the need arises. You’ll feel this tug in your brain, a voice saying things like “this character isn’t working,” “this chapter is going nowhere,” or “these actions are unrealistic,” and part of you will fight back, “no, this is in the plan.” But it’s important to throw things out that aren’t working, especially in the rewriting stage. While this can be demoralizing (the file of discarded text from my novel is nearly 30,000 words and the original draft was 50,000 words), these efforts are usually rewarded.
It’s also important not to cling too tightly to your agenda when receiving feedback on your work. Critique partners provide great support. They help you stick to deadlines and tell you what’s working and what’s not working in your story; however, this feedback can sometimes feel like a personal attack on one’s creativity, intelligence, etc. even when it’s constructive. You don’t have to cater to every demand a critique partner makes, but if your reaction is to always defend your choice and refuse their advice, then you’ll likely lose your critique partner and the opportunity to improve your work.
Don’t let your ego stand in the way of the story. Adapt, evolve, thrive.