Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Improv Living

Working the rewrite

Yesterday, I wrote about how you were the one in charge of writing the script of your life.  It’s your story and you need to be the one who determines which direction it takes.  I also shared how while writing a scene from Surrender, Virginia Hart’s cheating husband, Pierce, appeared in the scene when he wasn’t even supposed to be in the book.  Suddenly, the scene was off the outline and with each scribble of my pen I had to improvise the rest of the chapter, following my character’s instincts over my thought out plan.

Life is the same way.  Something occurs that takes you off script and you find yourself having to improvise your next moves.  It doesn’t have to be anything major.  Perhaps an accident keeps you from taking a trip you had been planning or keeps you out of the big game.  It doesn’t change your life story, just a few upcoming scenes.  Frustrating it may be, but not life altering.  It requires a small amount of rewriting, but before you know it, you’re back into the main story without much wasted ink.

However, sometimes an event can take the story in a whole new direction.  Unplanned pregnancy. Job loss. Death of a loved one.  Divorce.  Your life has suddenly taken a dramatic turn and the rest of the story has to be reworked.  At first, you’re not sure what to do and you just coast.  You’re improvising the next few days, maybe weeks while you’re rewriting the outline of your future.

It’s not always negative.  The unplanned pregnancy can be an amazing thing, especially once that bundle of joy lands in your arms.  Of course, you’ll have to rewrite your nights with wake up cries and dirty diapers, but it will be worth it.  The new story line will be a gripping page turner, especially when the baby hits the teenage years.

It could also be a job promotion that comes with a relocation, perhaps a financial windfall, or true love’s magical kiss.  Each of these events will take your story on a different journey than it was heading.  You will need to rewrite your outline for upcoming chapters, crossing some things off and adding others, again improvising as you go until it is done.

Hopefully, you do have an outline for your life, goals you wish to achieve in five, ten, twenty years.  You should be working toward something, a purpose for your life, not merely existing.  That would be a life of total improvisation, when every day you just wake up and wing it, creating a life out of what’s around you instead of stretching toward a dream.  That’s existing; not living.

However, even with a plan firmly in place and your eyes on a certain ending, life happens in unexpected ways.  If you do not allow for some flexibility, you’ll snap and the rest of your script will wind up in the shredder as you visit the looney bin.  Sometimes you are just going to have to improvise things, play off of what’s going on around you until you regain a thread of the new story you can run with. 

That’s what happened with Virginia.  Once Pierce appeared in the scene, I just kept writing, unsure myself what was going to transpire, until another subplot revealed itself and strengthened my novel.  I had to be willing to allow the characters to float for a bit on the unexpected plot twist before the new outline came into focus.  You may have to do the same thing with life for awhile until your new path becomes clear.  Don’t panic.  It doesn’t mean it’s the end of the story, just a new direction.

While you need to have an idea of where you’re heading in life, you also need to be receptive to new storylines that open up to you along the way.  Some may just come across your path in the normal flow of time while others explode upon you in a maelstrom of chaos.  Be open and flexible.  Improvise without killing the show and in your forward momentum another tale will unfold and stability will return.  You may stumble a little, many people do, but don’t quit.  The story to come will quite possibly be even better than the one before.  You won’t know, however, until you make it through the rewrite.

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                       Change Doesn't Scare Me

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  1. Great post Robbie.

    Useful advice. My current novel keeps heading off in different directions to what I had planned. first draft feels pretty unstructured and messy right now. I'm sure with the following drafts that normality will be restored in the narrative.

    1. Thank you, David. I look forward to seeing how it pans out. My novella did the same thing and I had to go back and add chapters as deeper things were revealed in the first draft.