Improvisation Writing by Deborah Lytton

Before I was an author, I was an actor. I worked in television and films from the age of six all the way through high school. Most of my acting training occurred on the job. However, in my twenties, I began studying improvisation at The Second City and then The Groundlings in Hollywood. I met so many talented actors both as teachers and fellow students and they inspired and challenged me in my work. What I learned was how to write and act without boundaries. As with all acting skills, improvisation techniques are quite structured and seem to contrast with the spontaneity of the improv itself. This type of work demands quick thinking and a willingness to let go of expectations and self-imposed restrictions. Best of all, it is great fun. The closest thing I can compare it to is play. When children play, they make up stories with complete freedom and without expectation or self-consciousness. However, the games always have their own structure. The exercises for improv are even called "Games" and they range from talking in gibberish to miming a scene. As writers, we can learn a great deal from improv itself. For if we can abandon ourselves to the words on the page and allow the story to unravel itself, we are improvising just as if we were standing on a stage in Hollywood.  Challenging ourselves to piece together our story through different perspectives and voices will help us hone the narrative. If we can play as we write, then we will find ourselves reaching beyond our own limitations to truly free our imaginations.  So today, play with your characters, your setting, and your plot. Release your expectations and just improv through the scene. See what you can write when you let go.


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