Monday, July 31, 2017

Build Your Skills Through Improv Writing

By: Deb Courtney

Among the many reasons I am a fan of Improv writing (writing to prompts) is that it can allow us to focus tightly on improving very specific skills. For the 7/11 “Write Drunk*, Edit Sober” Improv meeting, we drew in tightly on dialog – both spoken and inner dialog.

Dialog serves two very basic functions in fiction:

1)    Reveal Character
2)    Drive Plot

There are a number of techniques that can be employed when writing dialog, but essentially they play out to perform the following:

Dialog that reveals character does so via interaction with others or vis interactions with self. Your characters reveal traits, thoughts, feelings, life approach, and more, to each other and to the reader when they speak directly to each other. Direct and indirect inner dialog reveals the POV character to the reader, and sometimes provides insight into the POV character FOR the POV character (as in those moments when you realize something important about yourself).

Dialog that reveals plot does so by providing information that moves the plot along that is not available to a character via any other method. It can also reveal partial information vis a vis clues that contextually can lead to discovery. Internal dialog which reveals plot is a method by which the character lets the reader in on important information which only the POV character knows, while keeping other characters in the dark.

Inner dialog technically is accomplished two ways.

1)    Direct Inner – typically enclosed in quotes and indicate the POV character is speaking directly to his or herself. Generally, but not exclusively used for short statements.

2)    Indirect inner – this is more a stream of consciousness or running commentary, and might be in italics but not enclosed in quotes. Used for longer passages.

Inner dialog is used for revelations, self-talk (this can be negative and used to set up dichotomies between a character’s internal views of self versus the presented views to other characters), and for not-quite direct interaction with the reader. This is not to be confused with the narrator or narrative voice, which may or not be the same as your main POV character, but in some cases will be (First Person, certainly).

Keeping all of that in mind, I set out to design prompts, which did not suggest locale, vaguely suggested potential conflict, and were springboards for either inner or outer dialog. In addition, I used gender-neutral names so as not to insinuate specific situations. Prompts for dialog night were presented in First Person but participants were encouraged to change to any other POV that would suit them.

The Prompts:

1)    I never knew what would come out of my mouth next.
2)    Taylor’s eyes narrowed and I tensed. “Don’t go there,” I urged myself.
3)    It was the same conversation I always had with myself.
4)    It appeared Chris really was talking to me.

And because we had time, and I had the forethought to put one together, one bonus that was not as general or vague.

Bonus:  Why did you have to make me fall I love? I asked in a small voice.

Hope one of these inspires you to write a short dialog-focused response. Feel free to share in the comments if you do!

“Write Drunk*, Edit Sober,” takes place on the second Wednesday of every month at Bar-K located in Downtown Colorado Springs. The format is generally a brief setup of the focus for the session’s prompts, followed by 4 approximately 15 minute writing sessions.  *Pikes Peak Writers does not advocate actually writing drunk. Please imbibe responsibly. Alcohol consumption is not a required component of the improv sessions.

About the Author: Deb holds a degree in Fiction from the University of South Florida, where she was a Saunders Scholar in Fiction. She has had numerous short stories published and has worked as a freelance journalist. Her background includes marketing and public relations in several business sectors. Her most recent venture is Courtney Literary.