Monday, July 19, 2010

Not a Night at the Improv

I've been thinking about many things...
  • Bill Murray's "800" number (you leave a message and if he's interested in working with you, he calls you back),
  • Lady Gaga = couture Madonna. (Yes?),
  • How boring I found Eclipse the movie (not the book), yet so many people are "going to see it again"...  (!) (really?)
Some fellow bloggers recently posted about using music to get into the spirit of their WiPs (Works in Progress). A few even gave their playlists for those WiPs--good stuff!

You all know I love music lyrics and the emotion of instrumentation. But for some reason, I haven't used the music technique since Book 3. No clue why.

Two posts I did find very helpful recently were about using the five senses to develop 1-Setting (Wordplay) and 2-Makeout scenes (Oasis for YA). I'll be paying more attention to that going forward.

LTM: Use more than one sense...

Then I read a post over on the Burrow about how you have to be good at Improv to be a good writer.


Sorry, Jason. I'm going to have to disagree with you there. Not to be *itchy, but because I just have to if I'm going to keep writing.

You see, I took an improv class in HS, and I was a Freak of Nature in it: I simultaneously sucked AND blew...

Then I worked at the television station (WAFB-9, CBS affiliate) in Baton Rouge, and you know those little tag parts where the reporter will give his or her comment on the story right there on the spot? Well, they film those right there--improvisationally.

When I went with the reporters to tape those, the camera guys would usually be super sweet and film a few shots of me doing a tag to use in my video resume for when I interviewed to be a reporter...

I'll just say it: I was AWFUL at them.

If any of you watch 30 Rock, the scene where Liz Lemon is filming the promo for her book? That was me. Take 589...

I remember this one camera guy was so patient. I can't remember his name (of course), but he was skinny and wore glasses and reminded me of another friend of mine Chad... Anyway, notChad was my hero.

I don't know why, but the minute he'd say "Go," I would forget how to smile like a human, wave like a human, talk like a human... I was seriously retarded, and I apologize for my use of the R-word. It's simply the truth...

But I could write the heck out of a news story. I could also read the heck out of a teleprompter. The one-story anchor spot we filmed of me looked like something off the evening news--it was freaky.

So I'm not going with the whole "you have to be great at improv to be a great writer" argument. I'm sorry, I just cannot allow that to be true. My apologies to the Burrow. You know I love you guys.

Actually, I've found that lately, since school's been out and I've only been getting snippets of time to write, I've become a very Method writer. I mean, if we're sticking with the acting analogies and all.

This post is getting long, so I'll make this the Intro. Part 1, if you will. Come back Thursday, and I'll elaborate on how this little writer uses The Method to get into the mood of a scene or the spirit of a book.

Look out K.M.! I might do a v-log next~

If any of you writers out there don't follow K.M. Weiland's amazingly helpful blog "Wordplay," you should. I swear she catches me every time I'm needing a light bulb.

I'll be over here stumped, thinking "how do I do this" or "why does that matter," and her little acoustic guitar will start playing... in walks K.M.: "When I'm stuck there or wondering why that matters, here's what I do..." 

Check her out. (That's a link to her blog, kids.)


Natasha said...

Leigh,I wish you would post a link to this in the comments section of the other blog. Wednesdays, currently, are Random Wednesdays for us, but maybe we could do a Debate Wednesday, instead, because this has the potential to grow into something good.

If you don't mind, I am sending Jason across here, so the two of you can have a good debate. He's born two days before us, and loves nothing more than a debate with an intelligent person who knows what (s)he is talking about.

Candyland said...

Awesome post and uhh, Bill Murrary has an 800 number?!!!
I'll have to check out your link:)

Cruella Collett said...

If Jason does make an appearance he can speak for himself, but until then - I'm not sure even he thinks that the only way to go is through improvisation (and if he does, I'm like you inclined to disagree).

I know many writers who are planners rather than improvisors, and I don't think the one necessarily beats the other. Being able to plan, being structured and being hard-working are, in my opinion, just as important or more important qualities for a writer. However, the initial idea needs to come from somewhere... You don't have to employ Jason's techniques, and you don't have to call it improvisation, but somehow I think the creation of an idea always shares a few elements with improvisation (or at least I haven't been convinced otherwise. I'm willing to listen, though!).

I love your blog too. And please don't think that we're all agreeing with Jason and/or that we would dream of being offended by people having different opinions from us. I should think such a thing would qualify an immediate exit ticket from the Burrow... ;)

Looking forward to Part Two :)

Natasha said...

*looks confused*

Leigh, were you even implying, as Mari seems to think, that either Jason or any of the rest of us think Improv is the only way to write?

The way I see it, you were giving your impressions of the link (or lack of it) between Improv and Writing, and they are as valid as the ones that Jason makes. Personally speaking, I read this essay of Jason's before I wrote my first story, and some of the lessons worked for me. Not all, but definitely some.

And that is the beauty of anything creative, isn't it?

LTM said...

Rayna--where did you want me to put a link? In the comments section on Jason's Burrow post? Hang on...

Scarlett said...

Leigh, you always make me feel better whenever I read your blog! I could never do improv! I would have complete brain farts! Besides, there are numerous authors whom are quite, introverts that are fabulous writers. Improv would more than likely be completly out of their comfort zone, therefore rendering them speechless.
Sorry, I have been out of touch lately, we have been so busy over here!

LTM said...

Whoa. I went for a run... hang on...

@Candy: Yeah! Check out his interview in EW--awesome article:,,20396748,00.html

@Rayna & CC: I didn't think Jason was saying improv was the *only* way to write, but it DID sound like his point was you couldn't be a good writer and be bad at Improv.

BUT!!! I do everything these days w/two little ladies hanging off me needing snacks, hair bands put in their dolls' hair, "when're we going to the pool?", "she hit me," etc... So I had to read Jason's post FAST.

Let me go back and look...

OK, these two quotes jumped out at me. Jason said early:

"You'll probably be surprised to learn that improvisational skills are key to good writing."

and he concluded by saying:

"if you don't want your writing to go the way of the have to learn to be a two-faced Janusian beast who looks backwards just as well. For therein lies the key to narrative."

(That Janusian beast = Improv.)

I'm just going to have to politely disagree w/our buddy for the reasons given in my post.

LTM = sux at improv. But readers seem to like what I write...

Yes? :o)

LTM said...

@Scarlett: Missed you! I know how summer is--busy busy. But good times. :o)

Yep, didn't mean to cause a kerfluffle--that one just stuck w/me.... But it's fun to discuss different writing techniques and find the ones that work for you.

I'll bet there are writers out there who would benefit immensely from making the Improv-writing connection.

I's just throwing in my two cents~ ;o)

Karen Jones Gowen said...

I never listen to music when writing, reading or anything! My kids think I'm a music-hater lol. I need complete silence when writing, which is why I often do it at 2 a.m.

LTM said...

@KG: yeah, I really need it quiet when I'm writing, too. I wish I wasn't so sleepy at night... LOL! :D

That would be the perfect solution for summer break~

good stuff! :o)

Natasha said...

To be honest, LTM, one of the reasons I write is because I can never come up with appropriate responses till a couple of hours after when they were provoked. Through writing, I can vest my characters with the wit I sorely lack.
I guess that means I too will suck at Improv, though I adore public speaking (on topics where I am an expert).

And I know of another Gemini-Cancer cusp who claims to be the same. Why then is the male Gemini-Cancer cusp different?
*scratches head*

Unknown said...

I'm tickled you find the vlog helpful. And I'd *love* to see what you'd come with for a vlog of your own! Love your post, love your voice - I'll be back for more.

LTM said...

@Rayna--we'll see what that G-C cusper has to say... I was going to suggest making Weds debate a point-counterpoint instead. (Lord knows if I'm awful at Improv, I'd be awful at live debating as well. I have to step back and sort out my thoughts. Typically on paper/computer screen. ;o)

@KM-Yay! Thanks! You know those vlogs are just beggin to be spoofed SNL-style, right? But it would be done in *pure love* b/c they are SOOO helpful. Keep 'em coming~ :o)

JRichard said...

Ga ga ramana.

RosieC said...

I think that improv is one way to go, but it's not the only way. Some people need to make outlines of the entire plot, and then outlines of chapters, and then character sketches and... you get the idea. I'm not one of those people, but I'm also not an improv person. I, like you, tried my hand at improv in college and was... horrible doesn't even begin to describe it. And, like Rayna, I can argue worth anything because I can't think on my feet. None of this makes me a bad writer. Doesn't make me a great writer, either, but I know I'm better than some.

Oh, and Lady Gaga = Madonna, couture, and a dash of Michael Jackson. I feel it most in the Bad Romance video, but there are certainly others.

I haven't seen Eclipse yet, but you're the second person today to say the movie was pretty bad. I'm going on Saturday, so now I'm scared.

LTM said...

@JRM: oh la, oh la la

@Rosie: all true--good points. And I'm seeing more good writers claiming to be poor improv-ers, so who knows. I didn't throw Michael in w/Gaga, but I can see that. And finally, have no fear--it's possible if you're in a quiet mood, looking for a quiet film, you'll enjoy Eclipse. It was by far better than New Moon... (yes?)

Hart Johnson said...

Oh, and here my birthday mates are having a grand debate.

I could NEVER do improv--the out loud version of it, because my brain works at about the pace of writing... HANDWRITING, not typing... BUT, I could totally see Jason's point in stretching yourself by using some improv TECHNIQUES to write--matching things in an odd way to get a totally unexpected story... not necessarily for your BOOK, but for an exercise at adaptivity and creativity... the weight-lifting on the side that helps make you stronger for the marathon, if you will.

Then again I tend to understand things at the level at which they are helpful to me, never mind how they are intended, and misattributing IS my superpower...

LTM said...

@Hart: LOL! "pace of handwriting..." :D Me too!!! If that was just an exercise, that's cool. I can go with it being just an exercise. Writing weight lifting. Good stuff~

Unknown said...

Hi Leigh! I followed your link over here from DL's blog. After reading your New York post and this one, I'm hooked. LOVE your voice and your style!

I suck at improv, too. And, back in college I took a Public Speaking class. One assignment had us reading a prepared statement on camera. Every time the little red light lit up I turned into a bumbling fool. I guess that puts me in your camp, as far as this conversation goes!

Off to sign on as a follower. Looking forward to reading more from you :)

LTM said...

@Nicole--supercool! Thanks! That was a neat idea DL had... I'm still making my way down the list, but I'll skip ahead to yours~

You know, the red light didn't bug me when I had a "script" (teleprompter). It was having to make up something on the spot... I was a serious dork. :D

great to have you here~

Unknown said...

Dude an 800 #? I gotta check that out!!!!

I would never be able to do IMPROV I am a nervous person by nature and standing in a room full of people asked to perform random things... YoU mUsT bE cRaZy!

LTM said...

@Jen: No doubt! I was so awful at improv, the teacher just told me to go ahead and exit the stage... wah wah waaahhhh... LOL! :D But I can read a *script.* I just freak at having to do it on command like that.

great to have you~

Creepy Query Girl said...

thanks for that link! I had the opposite problem with improv. Things fly out of my mouth that I don't have time to think about before hand. It isn't pretty.