Wednesday, February 22, 2006
Thanks to all of you who commented on yesterday’s post. I was so heartened to see how that scripture spoke to you. Becky and Bonnie, thanks mucho for the tips on the online Bibles.
Recently I read Blink, the nonfiction title by Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point. Both are fascinating books. I was struck by a passage in Blink in which he talks about the spontaneity of improvisation theater. Gladwell tells of a comedy group in New York who creates a thirty-minute play on the spot, based on ideas called from the audience.
The tagline for Blink is “The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.” Gladwell says improv theater is a “wonderful example of the kind of thinking that Blink is about. It involves people making very sophisticated decisions on the spur of the moment.”
On the surface, he says, improv seems “random and chaotic,” but it really isn’t at all. Every week the cast of the group gets together to practice. Why? Because their art is governed by a series of rules, and everyone must abide by these rules and become very good at appearing to be spontaneous within these rules.
Gladwell explains that one of the most important improv rules is “the idea of agreement, the notion that a very simple way to create a story is to have characters accept everything that happens to them.” In this way a scene can be built. “Bad improvisers block action” while good improvisers “develop action.” He runs a few lines from an improv scene in which a crazy doctor suggests amputating someone’s leg just because he’s “having trouble with it.” The patient tells the doctor he “can’t do that.” The scene goes nowhere because the patient character has blocked the suggestion course of action. Run the scene again, with the patient accepting the amputation, and a wild and zany story is built.
I reacted to this idea with a nonplused shake of my head. It seemed totally backward to me. After all, isn’t an author’s story created by conflict? Character A wants something, and character B blocks it. Yet this is exactly opposite of what the improvisers do. Now maybe this rule applies more to comedy, I don’t know. But as I pondered this apparent dichotomy and what it could mean for my writing, a crack of light appeared from a new thought, not quite complete. Sort of like a door was opening in my mind to some major aha, but I had yet to push it open. I’m not sure I’ve opened it completely yet.
Apparently it has to do with plotting a book. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you know I have major problems with that. Ideas don’t flesh out for me easily. Usually because I reject an idea the minute it pops into my head as “not good enough” or “boring” or “I’ve already done that” or “not twisty enough” or something.
What if, next time around, I rejected the rejection response? What if I acted like a member of a comedy improv group and simply ran with whatever ideas surfaced from my subconscious? The “idea of agreement.” Block nothing. Accept a premise, accept the compounding ideas that follow, and see how far I can go in creating a story.
I don’t know how well this will work until I try it. (Which will be very soon. After I finish this book—the 6th in my 7-book contract—I must create new ideas to sell for my next contract.) But I am going to try it.
Y'all have thoughts about this? I'd love to hear 'em.