Maybe you’ve heard the idea that knowing the name of something gives power over the thing. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but there is power in the naming of things.

In a creation like a story or improv scene, naming things lends specificity and that specificity can be a foundation on which the rest of the story is built.

An improv teacher once suggested a way to further a scene was to reach into your pocket and pull out a [mimed] object, letting whatever it is be a surprise to both you and your scene partner.

Badminton racquetOf course a key piece of that is the naming of the object. Since it’s improv, the identity of the object is only limited by the imagination. It could be a badminton racket. It doesn’t fit, you say? But the pocket is really large. Or it’s a magic pocket and could contain anything.

Yet, in spite of the fact that a player can be anyone, the setting can be anywhere, and an object can be anything, I’ve noticed there can be a funny resistance to naming things during improv scenes.

Maybe we’re afraid of making a “wrong” choice.

Whatever it is, I’ve found that it takes practice to let an idea pop into your head and just go with it, no matter how absurd, boring or incongruous it may seem. It’s worth practicing because naming something is a gift to everyone in the scene. It gives them something to riff off of.

Here’s a silly example.

A: “Hurry or you’ll be late for your appointment.”

B: “Right. I just have to grab the stuff I need and I’ll be ready to go.”


A: “Hurry or you’ll be late for your job interview.”

B: “Right. I just have to grab my chess board and some lubricant and I’ll be ready to go.”

Chess board and lubricant? What the hell? Strange, maybe, but I’m more curious where the second of these will go. Furthermore, I’d rather be in the second scene because it’s already (after only two lines) brimming with interesting offers.

Have you ever had a hard time naming something in your writing or while doing improv?

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N is for Naming
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4 thoughts on “N is for Naming

  • 04-17-2012 at 1:56 pm

    This is a great post! I love specificity. The absurdity it leads to is indeed the more interesting route. In the teaching of writing, we called referred to a similar concept as “show me, don’t tell me.”

    Now “naming” has a name for me. It’s, well, naming! Yay, you for hanging in there with such a strong entry!!

    • 04-17-2012 at 2:18 pm

      Thank you! Funny, I thought this post was weak because I had several ideas jumbled together in my head and felt time pressure to get something posted so it seemed rushed and unfocused.

      Your reference to “show, don’t tell” brings up an excellent point. It’s useful to name things, but if the identity of something can be shown rather than told, that’s usually a better way to go.

      In improv, if I bring an object into a scene, I can name it (“Here, take this shovel.”) or I can start digging a hole with it. Either way, I’ve effectively identified the object. What sometimes happens, though, is a player mimes holding an object and hands it to their partner (“Here, hold this.”) and we still have no idea what “it” is.

  • 04-17-2012 at 4:10 pm

    I think this is a very special part of the act of creation, be it a story, a poem, a fractal, even a child. Speaking specifically to digital artwork, titling is one of the most important aspects to me. It sets a tone, captures memories or thoughts, creates a backstory, a personality – one intended, hopefully, by the creator. I also find it the most rewarding (well, one of the most rewarding) aspects of any project. Sometimes there are even subconscious connections, where the relationship is defined at a later time. I always put a lot of heart energy into titles (names), even blog post titles. And I am seldom dissatisfied. Some of my fractals have remained nameless, just a “code”, perhaps, in a dated folder. Even for years. And when the right one comes to my mind, I just know it’s right. And feel quite justified at however long it may have taken.
    Sorry for going on so – this topic is very special to me!!

    Great post!!!



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