Basic Improv

I was reading an article about Charlie Higson this week and he was writing about he talks to himself. Not just generally – well,yes, generally – but what he’s trying to do is write his books. He likes to talk the stories out loud to himself.

It’s a method I use myself, which is all very well when I’m up here in my flat but can be a bit worrying when I’m in the middle of Trafalgar Square.

It’s not just a good way to write dialogue (and it’s a brilliant way to write dialogue. It’s by far the best way to give your characters a distinct voice, to speak their lines out loud and hear how they work). It’s a really good way to write your plot.

Now, understand, I’m not just talking about muttering to yourself under your breath here. You have to stand up,walk about, and act out whole scenes yourself.

It’s a really useful way to get into the head of your characters. When you stand up, walk about, start imagining the curtain is one protagonist and you are the other, and start a heated discussion with it, you end up making discoveries out your characters you never knew you knew.

And if your plot grinds to a halt, act out what you already have, and you’ll start to feel what ought to happen next.

So go on, try it. I dare you. Stand up, imagine yourself to a be a character in your book, and the curtain or the chair or the wall or even an empty space to be another, and start talking. It’ll feel awkward and stupid at first (apart from those of you who already act, in which case this is basic improv and you know what you’re doing, so just do it!) but soon you’ll get lost in it. Your characters will become complex, your plots with develop nicely and your characters’ voices will have a ring of authenticity.

Just don’t get caught. Because anyone else apart from you, me and Charlie Higson will not understand.

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