One of the improv games I’ve played is called Again! Three improvisers line up facing the rest of the class. One begins a story by saying a single word. The next person adds the next word and so on, rotating one word at a time.

The rules are simple. Go as fast as you can. If at any time, any of the players is not having fun with the story, they stop it by jubilantly throwing up their hands and shouting “Again!” The other two join the first in an “Again!” Then one of them begins a new story. 

As with most improv games, the deceptively simple can illustrate many key improv principles. For example, Again! requires:

  • Listening to your partners
  • Accepting your partners’ offers
  • Being spontaneous

When I first played Again! I was reluctant to stop a story. My mind played a monologue that went something like:

We’re bogged down. Should I stop it? But what if the others aren’t ready to throw in the towel? And isn’t stopping a story without giving it a chance a sort of copout? Plus, if I throw up my hands, I’ll be drawing attention to myself. That’s bad. On the other hand…

But, once I played Again! enough times, I realized that all that internal chatter was pretty much the point of the game. The little monologue above illustrates some of the hobgoblins of improv:

  • Self-consciousness — What if I mess up? What if people notice (and judge) me?
  • Driving — I have an idea of where this story should go, even if my partners try to derail it with their own ideas.
  • Attachment — We’ve already invested in this story, so we should try to make it work somehow.
  • Taking things too seriously — What if this story ends up being the best story ever! Isn’t quitting wrong?

The beauty of the game lies in seeing the flip side of those:

  • Be generous with your partners (Make your partner look good.) — If I’m feeling bogged down, they probably are too. Maybe they’re afraid to throw up their hands too, so I’ll step up and put this story out of our misery.
  • Accept your partners’ offers (Say “Yes!”) — Okay, I’ll bite. Let’s go with that and see what happens.
  • Let go — This story hasn’t really panned out the way I had hoped. Let’s just start a new one.
  • Play and have fun — This is only one of a bazillion stories. Why continue if it isn’t fun anymore?

Getting to the point where I actually loved shouting “Again!” was so freeing that the game became one of my favorites — both to play and to watch. I found myself cheering when one of the players on stage stopped the story.

One reason I’m thinking of this game now is because Nanowrimo is rapidly approaching and I feel that an Again! attitude may make the whole endeavor more enjoyable — and more doable. I’ve got 50,000 words to work with, or 50,000 words to play with.

I could look at it like: “I have 50,000 words to write a good story,” or I could look at it like “I have 50,000 words to discover a story.” It may not happen until I’m at word 35,072, but that story may not have come to me without the 35,071 words that came before it.

One thing I know, if I insisted on slogging through a story I hate, the chance of getting to 50,000 words in 30 days is nearly zero.

So, that’s the game I’m playing during Nanowrimo. What games are you going to play?

Today’s Haunting Tidbit

Ghost Story book coverOccasionally I’ll read a book that I find haunting. One of my favorite such books is Ghost Story by Peter Straub. I think one aspect of the story that I like is how it takes place over a span of 70 or 80 years, with the historical pieces being interwoven with the story’s present. I also found the characters interesting.

Do you have any books you’ve found haunting?

Again! Improv and letting go
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