Impro for Storytellers

The following is an excerpt from Keith Johnstone’s Impro for Storytellers (it’s an extension/expansion of his thoughts in Impro) that I came across today.

Journey without Maps

My son is scowling at a piece of paper.
“What’s that?” I ask.
“A semantic map!”
“A what?”
“I have to write a story and I’m supposed to map out everything that’s going to happen so that my teacher can mark it. She says it’ll stop me writing the wrong things.”
(He’s aged ten and yet she’s already destroying his pleasure in writing just as someone once destroyed hers.)
“Why not draw the map afterwards?”
“But how will I know what to write?”
“Have you ever been on the beach and discovered a cave?”
“Yes.”
“Did you go in?”
“Of course.”
“Well – writing a story can be like creeping into a forbidden house, or lowering a gigantic hook into a haunted lake.”
He likes this idea. “But how do I begin?”
“Start with something ordinary and then have something mysterious happen.”
He goes away for a while, full of enthusiasm, but then he comes back disheartened, and says, “I’m stuck!”
“What’s your story about?”
“It’s about a boy who has to write a story.”
“Is he in trouble?”
“No.”
“Well, stories are about people who get into trouble.”
He rushes off for a whole hour and comes back looking pleased. “He’s in such a mess. Now what?”
“Either rescue him or make him suffer more.”
“But how can I end my story?”
“Feed things back in that happened earlier. Where did your story begin?”
“At school.”
“Then why not work the school into the end of the story? Stuff you’ve mentioned earlier should be reincorporated.”
“Reincorporated?”
“Fed back in. Oroborus.”
“What’s oroborus?”
“A snake eating its tail.”
Stories seem so well constructed that it’s natural for teachers to assume they were thought up in advance, but Gregor Samsa could have mated with another cockroach, and Humpty Dumpty could have been unscrambled by feeding him to a chicken.

1 Comment

  1. i’m still reading the book (i take a long time to finish a book), there is a shorter version, Impro, which i could lend to you should your mailing address make it to my inbox.

    but in either case, just write something, everything else is an excuse.

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