Creative Writing: Ask Yourself "What Comes Next?"

This past weekend I was presenting workshops at Fun Camp Canada, a conference for family entertainers. The audience was varied, featuring clowns, jugglers, magicians, balloon twisters, and face painters.

My presentation was about improvisation for solo performers, and it turns out the focus was on using the techniques of improv for creative writing.

As we create our shows, we need to create the scenarios and situations that will play out on stage. Even if we start from somebody else's routine or a packaged trick, it's up to us to use it to tell our own story.

Simply asking yourself "What come next?" will open up new ideas. Picture your routine in your mind, or better yet, practice in pantomime. Not actually using your props in this creative exercise opens up the opportunity to play without being restricted by practical details. (Also, saves you breaking your props if things get crazy!)

Let's give it a go... improvising as I write... A new routine idea, step-by-step.

  1. You find a newspaper on a bench. What comes next?
  2. You start reading the newspaper (obviously) What comes next?
  3. You find a classified listing you want to keep. What comes next?
  4. You can't find scissors to cut it out. What comes next?
  5. You gently tear the little ad out of the middle of the page. What comes next?
  6. You see another ad you like. What comes next?
  7. You tear that one out too. What comes next?
  8. A third ad catches your eye. What comes next?
  9. As you tear is out, you accidentally rip a whole section off the page. What comes next?
  10. You hide the big piece by sitting on it. What comes next?
  11. You try to read the paper casually, as if nothing was wrong. What comes next?
  12. You get tangled up in the paper as you try to flip it around, tearing it more. What comes next?
  13. After a tearing fit, you shove all the shreds under your bottom to be done with it. What comes next?
  14. You pull your saved clippings out from your pocket. What comes next?
  15. A man walks to the bench, asking you if he left his newspaper here. What comes next?
  16. You quickly hide the clippings, and stand up. What comes next?
  17. The torn, shredded paper gets stuck to your bottom. What comes next?
  18. You grab the paper and look apologetic. What comes next?
  19. With a flick of the wrist, the paper is restored into one piece. What comes next?
  20. The man is thankful, he says there was an important job listing in there he needed. What comes next?
  21. He opens the paper to holes where the ads should be. What comes next?
  22. You run off stage!

And there you have it. A new routine idea from scratch.

The benefit of the "What Comes Next" technique is that it's easy! You're never faced with the problem of thinking up the whole idea at once. You just baby step your way through the process. Starting where you are, and imagining the possible paths. We could easily start again with "reading the newspaper" and go a whole different direction in a matter of minutes.

Creating Trouble

The key here is to create trouble for yourself. Without trouble, there is no tension, and without tension nothing to resolve. No resolution, no feeling of a conclusion. So get yourself into trouble, then add to the trouble by raising the stakes.

In this example, the trouble was amplified when we discover it's not your newspaper. This is especially useful if you're a comedy entertainer who delights in getting him or herself in trouble. (that is to say, a "clown", regardless of whether or not you wear a nose)

So next time you're looking for new routine ideas, or looking to add more "bits of business" to what you already do, start at the beginning and ask "What Comes Next?"

For more on creative writing and routine development through improvisation, check out Ryan's book "Finding The Funny" (which made it's debut at this very conference!).

Published: May 30, 2013

Access: Public



I'm going to be working on one of my routines later tonight and I'm going to test out this idea. Thanks for reminding me of it!

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