Thoughts on NarrativeOkay this arises out of the workshop on Narrative I did with Steve Roe of Hoopla fame a few months ago, I know, super late, but better late than never.This was a really excellent workshop by the way, so take it if you have a chance. I learned some new exercises and had a great time. One thing that I learned that I think needs to be taken up more by writing workshops and writers in general is the idea of EXPECTATION.How does expectation work? Well, basically you have to pay close attention to your set up. For instance in a short comdey sketch if an item like a Twister board shows up at a party-- well, then this creates an audience expectation that the twister boards will at some point be used. It sounds obvious, but isn't always. The big difference between real life and fictional narratives is that in real life we are constantly seeing things and meeting people that have little influence on our life stories. Think of all the people you see on the subway train who you will see for a moment and have no contact with for the rest of your life. If you see a piece of garbage on the sidewalk it is unlikely to have a big impact on your future. However, in a fictional narrative there must be economy of objects and characters. You have limited space and time so everything that is highlighted must be important to the characters or its not worth describing. Thus, it is the nature of an object at the beginning of a novel that is well described, to come into play somewhere in the next few chapters. The ideal location to bring it back again, is at the point where the audience has forgotten that that particular object was ever in the story. Thus the pleasure of recognition and the delight of surprise when the hat pin described in the first chapter appears again as a murder weapon in the third half, for example. In real life plot lines often go nowhere. Mysteries often never resolve themselves. (Why was the girl at Willesden Green station waiting for the train in the cold in her pajamas? The world may never know!) This is one of the somewhat frustrating aspects of real life. The friend who just stops talking to you and you never figure out why-- that sort of thing will not happen in fiction. If a person stops talking to someone in a fictional story, then we're going to learn the reason in a fictional narrative. Mysteries like that are only left hanging by a particularly bad or disorganized author, or one seeking to point out the artificiality of narrative conventions to a critical reader. In a traditional narrative every line and every word is precious. If you put something into a narrative at the beginning the audience will enjoy it when it is REINCORPORATED in the narrative later on. This can get lame and predictable in poorly written films or books, if done clumsily or too obviously (for example, the hero puts a gun in the cookie jar in the first scene-- any experienced viewer will know at some point there's going to be a showdown in the kitchen with the villain where that cookie jar gun will come into play). In Hollywood this is called “hanging a lantern” on something, because it means giving what would otherwise trivial business a lot of attention, to get the audience to notice it, so they rememer when it comes into play later on. In improv because scenes are so brief and it's all improvised live and on the spot the more obvious the plant of an object is at the beginning, the better. Since there's no time to think very far ahead, you can't do a serious object plant, which makes it very funny because you have to improvise the drama out of the object offers you have at the start of the scene. You have a limited time to set the scene so no matter what weird and wonderful details that audience throws at you in the first few minutes-- they'll be amused and satisfied when you reincorporate them into later action. This is where the humour arises from-- the justification of absurd and ridiculous things in the fabric of the story. For instance, the twister board when you're in a submarine at sea. How do you justify that in the story? In improv things go really quickly which can get you to a lot of unexpected places narratively because you don't have time to think about what's logical or self-censor yourself. For example in the party scene we did, we decided a mother interrupted a party to tell her son his dog had died. As improvisers you can't just ignore that offer that was put out there even if that's not the original direction you anticipated the story taking. You have to be flexible and adapt to it. What's cool is that unlike writing on your own, you don't have to feel much pressure or responsibility for the plotting of the story. You just react in the moment to whatever you're given. You can't have any ego or pride about it. So now we had the dead dog to deal with in the scene-- at a later point in the scene I think someone forgot we'd killed off the dog and had the dog rush onstage to greet the boy. In an ordinary narrative this would demand a quick edit or risk the audience giving up their suspension of disbelief. However, in improv you have to work with whatever is given to you. If the dead dog somehow shows up alive again you have to find a reason for it that doesn't negate everything that previously happneed in the story, but instead builds upon it.