How can writing a first draft be like improv? In this guest post, award-winning author Amber Foxx explains her process.
When the present determines the future, but the approximate present does not approximately determine the future. (Edward Lorenz)
Every Friday I walk in to teach the faculty/staff yoga class and ask, “Any requests?” They may say “lower back” or “neck and shoulders” or “stress!” and I improvise a class structured around their needs. The more complex the combination of requests, the more I enjoy the process. Although I’m an organized person who does most things early, when it comes to creativity, I do my best thinking when I don’t have a plan.
My most memorable performance as a member of a modern dance company was an improvisation in a sculpture gallery. We’d been invited to interact with an exhibit of abstract works in stone. The gallery owner and our company’s director had no plan other than dancers and sculptures: put them together and see what happens. It worked. The inspiration for movements flowed in response to each other and the art. Improvisation calls for heightened present-moment awareness.
I liked improvisation when I worked in theater, too. It could be a way to explore relationships between characters before the actors were off book, or a way to discover emotional depths and spontaneity as a skill in and of itself. It made each actor pay close attention—because there was no cue. No one knew what was coming next.
My first draft as a writer is improv. I start with a situation, characters and setting, and put them together to see what happens. I have to listen to my fellow actors without judgment or filters; and those actors, in this case, are all in my head. As I would when acting, I get into character and react to the stimulus of the other person’s line or gesture, as well as the setting and the external events. I have to intuit what’s going on in each person’s mind at all times. About halfway through, I’ll step outside the narrative I’m writing in my protagonists’ point of view and improv the whole story from the antagonists’ perspective to find out what’s going on offstage. There isn’t always a tight plot in this draft, but the goals of the various characters show me what the plot might become.
Amber will explain what she does with her later drafts in a future guest post, Trusting Chaos Part Two. You can visit Amber’s website here.