Lists are very similar to free writing, but a little more focused. You give yourself a question or category and then as quickly as possible you write a list of answers. Here is a list of categories you could use to generate lists:
- Everyday locations
- Things that people do that seem strange to you
- Examples of everyday hypocrisy
- Characters that you are well suited to play
- Characters that you are not well suited to play
- Characters from fiction, film or history that you would love to play
You can use lists to flesh out a sketch idea before you set down to write it. For instance, first come up with a list of ordinary situations, ones with which you have a lot of experience or ones where you have seen lots of examples in plays, films or TV. Next pick one, and make a list of all the ordinary things that you might expect to happen in that situation. Then, make a list of extraordinary, unusual, strange or weird things that rarely happen in that situation. Finally, pick the one unusual thing that you find most funny and brainstorm a list of examples and variations of this out of place element in an ordinary situation. You now have a premise for a game and lots of ideas to heighten that premise. The actual writing of the sketch should flow fast.
National Sketch Writing Month (NaSkeWriMo) begins tomorrow. In past years, I’ve not done too well. I’ve signed up at least twice before and I’ve written a few sketches, but I haven’t come close to writing 30 sketches in 30 days. I think this year will be different.
I’ve had two problems in the past. On the one hand, I often wait for inspiration before I start writing. Unfortunately, inspiration doesn’t come very often if you just wait for it. I’ve heard it over and over again that you just have to force yourself to write. Inspiration comes to those who sweat. So in the past, when I’ve tried to follow that advice, I’ve sat down with a blank piece of paper and just started writing dialog. Basically, I improvise with myself. It rarely goes well. The dialog I end up with is small talk peppered with conflicts over trivial matters, precisely the kind of improv scene that I would try to steer my students away from.
Still I think the best sketches I have written have come from an idea, a game I’ve thought of before I put pen to paper. So how do I get to that idea besides writing aimless dialog? This series of posts will outline a few ideas that I’ve learned or that I’ve thought of recently which have helped me. The first one I learned on the first day of my first writing class at Second City. It’s called Free Writing.
Get a pad of paper, a pen and a timer. Set the timer for 10 minutes. Start the timer, put your pen on the paper and start writing. Write anything. Don’t worry about having a plan or writing anything specific. Just spew out whatever is in your brain and keep writing until the timer runs out. The only rule is keep your pen on the pad until the time is up. This is free writing.
When your done, your hope is that you will have an idea, a little sliver of inspiration and now you can write your sketch. One method I’ve heard is simply this. Set a timer for 30 minutes, start free writing. Stop when you have an idea for a sketch and switch to writing that. If the timer runs out before you have an idea for a sketch you like. Set the pad aside and come back later or the next day and start again.
Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.