At some point during NaNoWriMo, you may find yourself stuck. You’ve been writing diligently, and then—wham! Out of nowhere, you’ve written yourself into a corner with no hope of escape. Or perhaps you can’t figure out what the chain of events should be to get you to your next plot point. Or maybe you just get plain old writer’s block.
When writing during a compressed timeframe, like during NaNoWriMo, it’s important to be able to overcome this obstacle quickly. This is where a skill like improv comes in quite handy. Improv gets a bad rep, as it’s often presented in hit-or-miss comedy shows. However, the ability to think on your feet is an invaluable skill.
Improv has three basic rules. Follow them, and you’ll write yourself out of that corner in no time.
- There are no mistakes
Write something down. Anything. Introduce a new character. Have someone say something totally irrelevant. Switch scenes. Pick a plot bunny and make it happen. It’s your story, so anything goes. Whatever you put down, stick with it. Write now, edit later. Push your story onward.
- Say “Yes, and . . .”
Yes, and . . .is the most well-known rule of improv. In a scene, it’s important not to deny your partner’s reality, but instead to build upon it. This goes hand-in-hand with Rule #1. Whatever you wrote down, build upon. You can’t have one character say something that seems completely irrelevant and then have another character dismiss it. Make it relevant with the reaction. Bring their statement into their reality. Give it significance.
- Make statements
If you ask too many questions in improv, it forces your partner to do all of the work, while making statements colors the reality. In writing, asking questions doesn’t do you any favors either. A character can question something, but you should describe it. In fact, you want to make the readerask questions. Not questions of confusion and being lost (in most genres, with exceptions like mystery, thriller, and sci-fi), but questions of Why did she do that? Is he the killer?and, most importantly, What happens next?That question is what keeps readers turning the pages.
Want to delve a little deeper? The Improv Encyclopedia actually has ten rules, so here’s a few more for your use.
- Change, change, change
Stuck? Change it up. Switch to a different scene in the book, leaving this one on a cliffhanger. Once you’ve had some distance, you can some back with a fresh take. Perhaps something in the other scene will become relevant. Or change it up by having one character say or do something that changes the whole dynamic of the relationship between two characters. A fight scene changes instantly with a kiss. They could also say something that makes them realize that they’re on the same side.
- Establish a location
Does the audience have a good sense of where the scene takes place? Can they envision it? Take a moment to describe it. Obviously, don’t do an info-dump and spend three paragraphs describing the room. Mention a sound or a scent. Have a character interact with the setting. Providing this detail makes the scene more vivid and gives you space to explore possibilities moving forward.
- Be specific
They say that the devil is in the details—everything can come back to a little detail that ties it all up, or if the details do not add up, the whole story can unravel. Making sure it all comes out right is notsomething you should worry about now. That’s an issue to address when you’re editing. For now, just be as specific as possible. Give us those vibrant details that will draw the reader into the world. It may just spark an idea for a plot twist later on.