kurt vonnegut photo

Photo by New Chemical History

Improv scenes are just short stories being written and acted out in real-time.

Maybe it’s just me, but for me, Kurt Vonnegut was one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.  These are his 8 Tips for Short Stories.  All of these totally apply to improv.

1. “Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.”

  • Don’t waste the audience’s time or your time doing something you wouldn’t want to watch.

2. “Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.”  

  • No matter how outlandish or silly a character is, he or she must be grounded in something real that the audience can relate to.

3. “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.”

  • How characters’ wants influence their actions is what drives the plot of the story.

4. “Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.”

  • “Yes” doesn’t do much without “and…”

5. “Start as close to the end as possible.”

  • Stop talking about “that thing.”  Get to it and deal with it.

6. “Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”

  • Don’t be afraid to make a choice, even when it will change the dynamic of the scene.  Doing something different gives you a great opportunity to explore what your character is really about.

7. “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

  • Focus on your scene partner, recognize the scene you’re building and build it together.

8. “Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.”

  • The more you endow your partner, the more gifts that you give them to play with the easier it is for everyone, audience and players alike, to figure out what’s going on.  Don’t hint at the things we all see are happening or going to happen.  Just say/do it.  Be as direct as we all wish we were in real life.  Have those moments.