Last night I went to the pictures, as I usually do on a Saturday night, and saw a double feature of The Green Hornet and Just Go With It. The Green Hornet was the better of the two films, but Just Go With It was the inspiration for this post, because the little girl in it is an acting student who talks about the rules of improvisation, and the whole movie is about characters improvising within a made-up framework. So lets forget that it is a typically predictable Adam Sandler comedy (although based loosely on the classic play Cactus Flower.) SPOILER ALERT : He ends up turning down the hot blonde for Jennifer Aniston (pretty hot herself) in the end. (Is it too much to ask that one of these Hollywood romantic comedies go for something different and have all of the characters deciding to live together in a polyamorous relationship?) Still, it has plenty of genuine laughs, two hot chicks in bikinis and a guy picking up a coconut with his butt cheeks. So it's not all bad. The important thing is that it provides a peg on which to hang a post about how the rules of theatrical improvisation can be a huge help to the creative writer.
|Super hot Brookyn Decker (although Jennifer Aniston also looked hot in a bikini)|
I've had an interest in the theory of theatrical improvisation ever since the late eighties when a friend of mine took part in Theatre Sports while studying acting. We had a team and I was the coach. This was really just a way of getting a bit of the glory without getting out on the stage. I did agree to fill in for a missing team member on a particularly important night - perhaps it was a final. I was shitting myself back stage, but, luckily, someone turned up to take my place. I read the book which inspired Theatre Sports - Impro : Improvisation and the Theatre by Keith Johnstone - to help me with the coaching. I'm sure they would have done fine without my help, but what I read in that book would pay off for me many years later.
Theatre Sports, in Adelaide, hit its peak while my friend was competing. The grand final packed out a 1,200 seat theatre, making it the biggest Theatre Sports audience in the Southern Hemisphere (at least up until that time). At that point Geoffrey Rush was the host. He would run out onto the stage wearing a helmet and make jokes about the flipping of the coin to begin the competition being "the first public toss of the evening" and he'd throw lollies out into the audience to keep the level of hysteria high. It was all down hill from there. Now he's starring in Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
|Geoffrey Rush as smut-writing legend - The Marquis de Sade|
|Me writing erotic stories|
I could be shopping at the supermarket, and an ugly old lady in front of me complains about the price of cucumbers. So I might think to myself, "What if she was a hot young woman who wanted the cucumber to masturbate with. She's too stingy to buy one at such a high price, so she has no choice but to go home and use the pretext of borrowing a cup of salad dressing to seduce her hot neighbour and satisfy her pussy with his meat-based cucumber substitute." Instant erotic story.
|Lisa from Girls Out West discovers that cucumbers are good for more than one thing. They are also edible.|
I've often said that the one thing which enables me to be imaginative in my writing is that I write trash. If I were to try to write a serious detective novel, I would, I'm sure, be hampered by self-criticism. I would want each aspect of my story to be scrupulously well-researched and believable. But because I write deliberately ludicrous smut, I'm practically free from this problem. No idea is too ridiculous, no gag too belaboured and if I've borrowed most of the plot from a movie I watched on television last night, that's O.K., it's a parody. I think that maybe even serious writers can benefit by convincing themselves that quality doesn't matter. If Shakespeare had known that students would be studying his work in 2011 he probably would have suffered terminal writer's block.
We may have many reasons for implementing self-censorship. An idea may be too crazy, too obscene, too kinky or too personal in what it reveals about us. But the best way to develop one's creativity is to allow all ideas to be expressed. This doesn't mean that all ideas need to be used in the final product. But if your mind gets used to being listened to it will keep feeding you the ideas.
|No self-censorship here and I like her choice of canvas|
Perhaps the most important thing to remember about improvisation is that you can't find out where a path leads unless you go down it. And this is why it is important not to be too fussy about our ideas. A pretty mediocre idea, if allowed to develop in the mind, can lead to a great one. You'll never know if you reject it as mediocre. And, since writing is a private business, you have nothing to lose by giving ideas the benefit of the doubt. You don't have to show anyone the writing that you don't think works.
Sometimes it is the lateral thinking you have to do when you feel you've painted yourself into a corner which leads to the most effective plot ideas. I can't think of a good dramatic example from my own work, so I'll use an example from the career of Stephen King instead.
I don't actually know Stephen King. And I've only read one of his novels. So I'm going to engage in a bit of speculation here. All authors are alike, so imagining my way into Stephen King's thought processes shouldn't be too hard.
Always a master of horror, with Gerald's Game King decided that he was going to try his hand at writing an erotic novel. It begins well with the heroine handcuffed to a bed by her horny husband. "Wow!" thinks King, "this kinky sex play is seriously boner-popping stuff. A guy could get so excited by this that he'd have a heart attack. Hey, why not, that'll be a dramatic plot twist. The reader's won't see that coming." The only problem is that, having killed off Gerald, and with his wife still cuffed to the bed in a deserted wilderness area, there wasn't much opportunity for erotic activity. With her hands cuffed she couldn't even masturbate. He could have had a big muscly woodsman just happen by, but that would be cheating. It was only the first few pages of what was to be his great erotic novel, and Stephen King had painted himself into a corner. What to do? And then inspiration struck. A change of genre. Make it a horror story about a woman slowly starving to death and trying to free herself with acts of self-mutilation while reminiscing about having been molested as a child. He could even have her visited at night by a mysterious serial killer.
And so it was that a change of direction arising from a need to get out of the corner he painted himself into in the first few pages became the great idea which made his novel a success. Of course it was just another horror novel, and not the steamy lust epic he'd been planning, but he could always attempt that on another day.
And this example is itself an example of the same thing. I decided to write about how a creative leap when you get stuck can lead to some of the best ideas, and I wanted an example. I couldn't think of a good one from my own work, and, no matter how I wracked my brains, I couldn't come up with another off-the-cuff tale of cucumber or dolphin fucking. So I made a lateral leap and came up with an idea which will probably lead to me being sued by Stephen King for implying that, while an excellent writer of horror tales, he sucks at erotica.
|Stephen King has never been one to let the grass grow over him when it comes to his choice of genres|
One of the best ways of practising improvisation skills is to take part in the Twitterotica writing challenges - Wank Wednesday and Fuck Me Friday. In spirit these are very like the games that make up Theatre Sports. Also a lot of fun are multi-author stories. I've been involved in some of these in the past and intend to post some of my own contributions to them. And, who knows, maybe we can get something along those lines going here. Let's just go with it.