There’s a trick to good improv. It’s the same trick we often use to crack open scenes at Sceneplay. It’s called “Yes, and...”.
In an improvised scene one actor offers a piece of information or an action. The job of the second actor is to accept the offer as fact and add something new to the mix. For example, if one actor tells another he’s wearing a pink tutu, then the second actor might say it’s for the father-daughter ballet class. He’s affirmed the suggestion and moved the scene forward at the same time.
Failing to accept an offer is called blocking and it’s the fastest way to kill a scene. Imagine the second actors says instead, “No, I am not wearing a tutu!” Now what? He’s blocked the action and hasn’t offered a new direction. The scene withers and dies. Simply saying “yes” turns the scene into a collaboration and opens up new territory.
That’s the true power of “Yes, and” — possibility. It inspires and energizes your writing with unexpected complications.
Which is exactly why most writers will resist saying “yes” in a scene. They would rather stay mired in writer’s block than lose control of the story. Saying “Yes, and” is scary. It means trying out plotlines you hadn’t planned. It means making it up as you go. Allowing your characters to say things you hadn’t intended. What if the character says something “wrong”? Something, well, out of character?
Yes, that’s possible. And…
It’s still revealing. Now you know even more about the edges of your character or story. Far more likely, however, is that you’ll discover your character was just itching for a chance to blurt. She was dying to “misbehave” so you could see her as more fully rounded person. In saying “Yes, and” you expand the possibilities for both of you. You collaborate.
In her joyful, impassioned plea to the class of 2012 at Smith College, Jane Lynch argues for the power of “Yes, and” to transform not just your writing, but your life. If Jane can live her life according to this principle, surely you can write one scene saying yes to a possibility you hadn’t considered. After all, unlike life, you can always go back.
What have to you got to lose?
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