Making mistakes in writing and improv

13 scenes written, and the final confrontation started. Our hero stands seemingly alone, surrounded by the villain’s crew. But she knows she’s got a trick up her sleeve, thanks to her nearby hidden friend.

Who the villain demanded be brought to him a few scenes ago. And for some reason seems to have entirely forgotten about in the meantime. While the audience clearly won’t have done.

Damn.

I thought I’d cunningly weaved together a bunch of story threads to a satisfying conclusion, but part-way through the final scene I was brought up short. Sure, the villain is ranting in classic villain style and is sure of his victory, but getting the audience to buy that he’s got such a short memory span when it comes to our protagonists is pushing things a little far. I’m going to have to fix this problem.

And that’s great.

Yes, it means this is going to take me longer than I expected. Yes it means that I “messed things up”, but that happens. Sometimes in improv brilliant scenes are fed by a confusion on the part of one improviser, but only provided someone takes that issue and runs with it. Obviously when scripting it’s a slightly different process, but fundamentally so solve the problem I used the same technique that I use while in the middle of an improv scene – “Yes, and…”. In improv this simply means accepting what has just happened (even if it was a “mistake”) as now part of your scene(“Yes”), and developing the idea and building upon it (“and…”)

In this case I accepted that the villain would question why said friend was missing (thus saying “Yes” to the idea that the villain would notice), but also realising that there must be something more to the story to explain how this had happened (thus adding the “and…”, but I won’t give away what I actually added here). Realising my problem got me asking the crucial question – how did this character actually come to be where he was. And fixing it has allowed me to not only answer this question, but also to give another character a particular awesome moment, and to make it clearer how everyone contributes to the eventual climax of the show – all things that I probably wouldn’t have thought to add without this “mistake” to slow me down.

Still, there’s plenty left to do. Changes are hard work, and I’m not entirely happy with my villain – I want a relatable villain but sometimes they veer a little too close to sounding entirely reasonable. Maybe the mistakes I’ve made there will lead to me drawing out a new element of their personality and making them someone the audience will really love to hate.

Or maybe not. Sometimes a mistake is just a mistake. But I’m going to try to keep trying to treat them as opportunities, both in writing and in life. For me it’s certainly better than dwelling upon them!

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2 Responses

  1. alextfish says:

    Yay for making characters more awesome by challenging them to solve problems that you kinda accidentally created for them 🙂

    In writing the “Yes, and” isn’t /always/ the best plan, but it probably is more often than we realise. I remember during one NaNoWriMo, I let Rachael read my first third or so partway through the month, and she said “Ooh, that character’s existence has a lot of potential, I wonder what plot twists they’ll lead to.” When she said that I had absolutely no idea what would happen, I’d just included the character because they were cool… but sure enough as I unfolded the plot a beautiful opportunity arose for the protagonists to take advantage of that character’s unique traits to get out of a tricky situation 🙂

  2. Paddy says:

    I think this applies to writing code, when you reach a point when you try to use a variable niether know how to calculate nor have included in your parameters. The fun exercise is then working out how to change what your code knows and or what other bits of the plan you need to change to make said variable exist when you need it to.
    The other option is to accept that it doesn’t exist and work with any related values which you actually have already. In many cases you end up with less unneeded code, also there are many instances where working with whatever holes (read mistakes) you have leads to thinking about how everything fits together much more clearly.

    Probably bad practice, but I always start writing code at the low-level and back-fill structure as needed.

    I have heard very similar advice about novel writing in such a way to avoid excess details which don’t actually relate to the plot:
    Starting writing a novel from the final confrontation and then weave back how the characters/tools got where they are from what is needed to make the scene work.

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