Improvisational Writing

I’ve officially begun the first rewrite of Exile Issues. So far it entails reading the thing and making notes of what needs changing.

There is a lot. I’m halfway through and I have a page and a half of notes. That’s really not surprising or disappointing.

I’m actually pleasantly surprised by how not awful it is. Oh, there’s one truly atrocious section—it’s a “look at the bachelor who can’t cook trying to cook and the hilarious disaster that ensues” bit. I have no idea when that gag became trite, but I do know that it happened well before I did.

The vast majority of the notes that I am making are of threads that I laid down and never really picked up again. For example, I establish that one of the characters—the exile of the title—is aware of at least two prophesies involving people in the book. As it stands, however, these don’t come true (although at one point characters who hear the prophesies explicitly decide not to cause one of them to happen).

I’m really not surprised or distraught over this. It’s a natural consequence of how I wrote.

I started the book with absolutely no plan and no ideas other than the opening line: “The very bad magazine was watching me.” Beyond that, for the 55,000 words that the first draft ultimately ran, I was improvising.

Now, I do perform improv comedy as well, and obviously the two aren’t precise parallels. But the approach served me well, I think. First off, there was the confidence boost that it provided me, particularly around 20,000 words in. I was feeling like the draft was going nowhere. When performing, to get out of that, you play. You look around, find something in the environment that is interesting, or an interesting character trait or relationship, and you play with it. It’s the approach that I started taking on paper. Results that I’m quite pleased with include a watermelonfall and a hapless traffic warden and his community policing survey, neither of which I could have come up with if I had sat down and thought out, “Where is this story headed.”

Improv is good for taking flights of fancy, particularly with my tendencies/habits/dare-I-say-style. Complexity and plot and wrapping things up are tougher. Much of improv teaching explicitly advises avoiding those things, and with good reason. They don’t tend to help matters, particularly when you’re learning, and they don’t tend to be necessary in an improv show.

A book, obviously, is a different matter.

I’m planning three months for the first revision. That’s actually longer than it took to write the first draft, but the draft took place while I was burning vacation time at work and had an extended period where I was only in the office two days a week. If all goes well, that means draft 2 will be done by the end of the year.

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One thought on “Improvisational Writing

  1. Pingback: Editing Update « Future Famous Author Greg Landgraf

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