Hey friends and NaNoWriMo writers! Thanks for helping me beta test Stage One of Improvising Your Crappy First Draft.
These 19 exercises (20 minutes each) will introduce you to games and tactics borrowed from improv comedy and repurposed to help you write faster, make stronger choices, and have more fun doing it.
Big picture goals:
1) Commit to a story idea and and flesh it out with basic character development, world-building, and a rough map of your story that will set you up for success going forward. You’ll even write a few short bits of scenes!
2) Adopt an improv mindset of failing fast, saying Yes And to yourself, and finding the fun in the hard, risky, vulnerable work of writing.
Get started with the first session below!
Some details: Your story is entirely yours. I won’t share it without your explicit permission. You’ll enter your name and email so I can collect your story content in once place. You will receive email copies of your answers every time you submit a form response, and once you’ve completed the first 8 sessions, I’ll create a spreadsheet where you can see all of your accumulated material as well.
Session 1.1 – What’s Your Story About? (20 min)
Generate 15 unique story ideas using the improv game *Five Things.* Old ideas, new ideas, good ideas, bad ideas!
Session 1.2 – Who, What, Where (20 min)
Pick two of your story ideas and write brief descriptions that clarify the *Who, What, Where.*
Session 1.3 – What’s it Called? (20 min)
Make *Alphabetical Lists* of titles for your two story ideas (because the title is the last thing you should be worrying about right now).
Session 1.4 – COMMIT to Your Story (20 min)
Decide on which of your two story ideas to pursue and flesh out the description using the improv tool *C.R.O.W.*
Session 1.5 – Say Yes And to Your Story (20 min)
Answer four basic questions about your story using *Yes And*
Session 1.6 – Steal From the Best (20 min)
Art is theft, so let’s figure out what you’re stealing from and how to make it your own.
Session 1.7 – In a World… (20 min)
Break your writing brain in two with *Word-at-a-Time* as you create cheesy movie trailers for your story two words at a time.
Session 1.8 – Introducing Story Spine (20 min)
Make sure your story feels like a story by plugging it into *Story Spine,* a simple improv storytelling tool (used by Pixar!).
Session 1.9 – Story Spine: The Moral of the Story (20 min)
Dig deep and settle on the beating heart of your story—what it means, what the reader can learn, why we care.
Session 1.10 – The World’s Worst (Best) Protagonist (20 min)
Don’t just settle for any old main character. Make strong choices that set your hero up for maximum change.
Session 1.11 – Story Spine: Once Upon a Time (20 min)
Lower your expectations for yourself and write the first 250 words of your novel.
Session 1.12 – Word Association (20 min)
Use word association to free associate dozens of possibilities and spark ideas for your story.
Session 1.13 – Story Spine: And Every Day (20 min)
Tell us 15 things about your main character and their world that are likely to change.
Session 1.14 – Story Spine: And Ever Since That Day (20 min)
Show where those same 15 things landed by the end of your story.
Session 1.16 – Flip Around (20 min)
Session 1.17 – Story Spine: Fortunately (20 min)
Session 1.18 – Story Spine: Unfortunately (20 min)
Session 1.19 – Story Spine: Until Finally (20 min)
More About the Philosophy of Improvising Your Crappy First Draft
Writing is a pain in the ass because you need to do two contradictory things at once:
You need to write smart. Crafting your story requires a host of technical skills, a constant stream of difficult decisions, setting expectations for yourself and the quality of your output, etc. But if you’re so wrapped up in getting everything “right” that you’re not having fun—if you stall out, get discouraged and eventually resent the whole process—you’ll never actually finishing anything.
You need to write risky. Writing can and should be joyful. Stepping out onto the edge of the unknown and discovering characters, language, dramatic action—and what you as a writer are actually capable of—is liberating and thrilling and productive. But if you’re just wandering aimlessly, following your gut and whimsy, you’ll end up with an unsalvageable hot mess.
Improv training brings together smart and risky to enable spontaneous comedy and storytelling. It prepares players to jump up in front of an audience without a plan and gives them the tools to cope with that vulnerability through playfulness and fearlessness. And anyone can learn to do it.
Over the course of Improvising Your Crappy First Draft you’ll use games and tactics from improvisation to get out of your own way and make strong choices, to say yes to your ideas and run with them, to get out of your comfort zone and discover options and superpowers you didn’t know you had, to transform writing from an effortful process into an effortless one. Until you have a finished draft in your hand.