Improv 101 — Being Somebody Else

Every year, when I meet the new class of high school kids I teach improv to, I always give them a lecture. Most times I’m teaching it’s a gauntlet of “what game is he teaching us this week”, but the first week is always different, because I mostly just talk. About me. You might think that’s asinine or narcissistic, and well, maybe it is, but I think my story with improv is important.

I was always the introverted kid in class. Okay, I am the introverted kid in class, but in high school it was even worse. I was so bad I would be reading fantasy novels in my theatre class any chance I could, as long as the teacher wasn’t talking. And yeah, I got my book taken away by multiple teachers over my high school career. Needless to say, I wasn’t exactly fast friends with anyone I met.

But then my soon-to-be improv coach started coming into the class as a guest teacher. He’d teach imrpov games just like on Whose Line is it Anyway?, and I loved when he came because then we’d get to play improv. You’d think the story ends there right? I jump on stage, come out of my shell through improv, then I started teaching, right?

Well, no. It took a lot more work than that. I wouldn’t even go on stage to play games when he asked. I just liked that he was there because I enjoyed watching improv, not because I wanted to do it myself. Me? An actor? Yeah, okay buddy.

A few months go by, and he eventually states that he’s recruiting students for an improv team. Nothing school related, but we would be joining a non-profit that helps high school kids perform on stages (most often by singing, but well, that part of the story isn’t really important). Against my better judgment, I signed up. I could watch more improv that way, at least.

And so, Kollin the audience member was forced to become Kollin the improviser. I’m not going to pretend I was the best on the team, (in fact I would argue against it), but my best moments tended to last the longest in our minds.

After a few years of our improv team doing great and going strong, old faces leaving and new faces joining, our coach told us he was moving. We had two options: hold our own or quit while we were ahead. We made the mistake of trying to hold our own. The only people that were left were just out of high school, after all, and neither of us had the resources nor the charisma to lead a team of teenagers.

But, I did accept the mantle of improv coach. And so Kollin the improviser became Kollin the teacher. Freshly graduated, I started joining my coach as he went into the high school to teach, and when he did move, soon it was just me.

A few years of that and here we are. An introverted Kollin standing on stage talking to a bunch of high school freshmen about what improv is. This is only the first half of the lecture, but I think it implies a lot about what improv can be. Yes, I’m still the introverted guy who won’t speak to a stranger unless spoken to. But through improv I’ve gained the ability to don a mask. The mask of who Kollin would be if he was extroverted. I wear it well. It suits me, in a way, and though I can’t wear it for long, people are often surprised when I tell them I’m introverted. I’m still working on being able to pull out that mask in non-teaching environments, but it’s the only time that version of me is really comfortable.

Improv really helped me find myself. For some people, it takes them out of their shell and they blossom into an entirely new creature. Sometimes it’s just a confidence shift. I think I might of changed the least of all the people from my improv team, but the new skills of being able to pretend I’m slightly different versions of Kollin would make people think I’ve changed a lot.

Improv changes you, but it’s always positive. I’ve never seen anyone negatively impacted by the experience, and though I’ve certainly seen people so embarrassed they’ve cried, they really did learn a lot and had some profound personality growth because of it. Improv is one of those things that I think everybody should try for a while. Even if it’s just a simple college class later in life.

See You in 2019.

Hello! Yes, I am still alive.

When last we met, back in August, we were sort of floundering and struggling to update on a regular basis. Posts were late, and probably subpar (though I will not bother to go back and read them), but I have news.

I am back. I am currently setting my blog up for the new year. We’ve got lots to talk about, and I’ve got some news on the horizon! When 2019 hits I’ll go back to posting regularly (I’m thinking three, maybe four times a week tops), and with some added regularity, the quality of what I produce will be improved.

See you January 1st!

Me — My Persistent Problem with Pretty Projects

I admire people that can just write because they enjoy it, and churn out books because they like telling stories, whether or not those stories are good or will ever see the light of day. I’ve never been like that, and to this day, I would consider myself to have only ever finished a complete draft of one novel. This was almost six years ago, and I was in high school at the time.

Ever since then, it’s been the same exact process. A new idea starts to interest me, and I mull it over for a few weeks. I may or may not outline it, but whether or not I do is always a conscious decision. After that I get to work, and about a quarter of the way through, the idea is no longer interesting. I start getting bored until it gets harder and harder to push myself to write, until one day I say it’s not worth it anymore. By then, I may have another new idea to jump onto, but not always.

Soldier of Nadu‘s second draft. White Tower/Kitsuki’s EmissaryDreamscapeRise of the Riftguard. The Lisa Stenton anthology. Spear Gate.

I’ve tried everything. From extensively outlining to no planning whatsoever, to writing a collection of short stories rather than a full book. It just doesn’t work.

And now I’ve got the Xelfure project churning over in my head. The more I think of it the more it’s starting to sound like the prequel to the central book series of Nacre Then. But when I first started thinking about it it was barely a short story. A novelette at most. But I thought, while I was dabbling in Nacre Then, why not throw in characters I was already familiar with? And take the opportunity to flesh out characters that didn’t have a solid place in the lore? Well, the idea has entirely outgrown the original framework of the story I had set up—a two layer narrative of past and future is now simply a novel with typical flashbacks, and I will openly admit I don’t like the sound of that. It’s just not what I want for this story, not to mention the size of such a project will never get finished given how I’ve tackled writing the past several years.

I don’t really know what my problem is, but I would hazard to guess that I worry too much about perfection right off the bat. I write good first drafts, I won’t short change myself on that, but rarely do I go back and edit, and I think the way that I write and the things I want to write are completely incompatible. I can only write a good first draft if that story is short, because if it’s too long the pieces I’m juggling get too hard to handle on one pass, and since I don’t know how to go back and make changes I simply lose heart and stop.

I do think that I just need to be okay with writing for writing’s sake. Very rarely have I ever had that mindset. Even the weekly short stories aren’t for me, it’s because I feel obligated as a writer to have an output and having something to show for myself. I don’t think that that’s inherently a bad thing, but it does mean I’m not enjoying what I could.

I’ll say it again—I don’t know how anyone can enjoy writing, but I respect anyone that does. I don’t like writing, I just like having written. It’s a subtle difference, but a big one.

Me — Editing My Own Work

I’ve never had an easy time revisiting my own work after it makes it past its first draft. I would say that it’s probably one of my biggest flaws as a writer. In fact, rarely do I even go so far as to reread my own work before I publish it to the blog. I mean, I’m sort of reading it as I write it, so I don’t make too many grammar mistakes, but it does happen.

But once I actually finish something, the only reason I’d go back and read it again is if I was either recording it to post it on YouTube or because I need to familiarize myself with the stories and characters before I continue writing. Pretty much anything anyone has ever read of mine is going to be as I wrote it, with almost no edits. If you’re reading it here on this blog, then that’s doubly true, though I may have gone back and fixed typos.

I actually find it pretty difficult to go back and change my writing. I’ll receive edits and know what I want to change, but this often means cutting and adding larger chunks. I was recently given notes for my one act play I’ve been working on (for a playwriting class I’m taking), and instead of changing the ending, I just took out the last paragraph and added two more pages. I hardly touched character motivation, character dialogue, or anything at all. I just added.

To some extent, I think that’s fine. But here I am thinking about the second draft to my Spear Gate novella and I’m not even considering editing. I feel like it needs so much work I might as well start it from scratch (after making a real outline, of course). I think the biggest hurdle is that two of the three main characters need better motivations for their actions, which is no small fix. Especially with how I operate, going back and editing each and every line just isn’t feasible. It wouldn’t be worth my time. Still, I’m not sure rewriting it from the beginning is a good idea, either.

It’s sort of funny because I edit naturally as I read other people’s works. I can’t even turn it off, editing is the only mode I have as a reader (which is why I read so slow and often fall asleep), except when I’m reading my own writing. I don’t know if you can train yourself to use it only when you need it, but I’d certainly like to learn. Writing a bunch of first drafts of several different Chapter Ones can get tedious, and though I usually like how those short stories turn out, I want to write books! If my theory that Mary Sues are just protagonists that need to earn their perfection, then I need to write in the same story a lot more. I’ll never earn any level of awesome if I only hold on to characters for 2,000 words at a time.