Five Ways the Rules of Improv Apply to Web Writing

Ever watched an improv show?

If you’re not familiar with improv, it’s a live stage performance where actors have no idea what they’re actually going to do and say. Usually, they’ll start a show by having someone from the audience yell out a word, and with that word as a theme, the actors will play off each other to create either a scene or an entire play full of interwoven storylines.

It’s fascinating to watch. Great improvisers can put on a full show that’s so compelling and so entertaining, it’s hard to fathom that nothing was actually scripted.

Recently, I signed up for improv classes to try something new, move past my off-stage comfort zone, and join the likes of Tina Fey, Will Ferrell, and Steve Carell (who all got their start from improv).

While taking these classes, I learned something I didn’t expect — I realized the basics of improv go hand-in-hand with running a web-writing business.

How?

It all comes down to the top five rules of improv acting.

Rule #1: Say yes, and.

Improv: When you’re creating a scene from scratch, you need to build on everything you say. At the start of a scene, if your partner asks if you want a glass of milk, say, “Yes, and I’d also like some cookies.” This comment gives your scene partner something to work with and react to.

If you were to simply give a yes or no answer, it would take more work from the other actor to come up with an interesting response and create a scenario. Agreement plus an additional comment helps a scene grow into something interesting.

Writing: This rule comes in handy when you offer extra services. If your client asks you to write a home page for his website, say, “Yes, and I can also write a landing page and web video script.” It’s a simple process of giving extra suggestions so your client can build on new ways to use your skills.

Upselling is not only a way for you to make more money from one client … It’s also convenient for your client, who will happily invite new ideas that boost profits.

Rule #2: Make your partner look good, and that’ll make you look good.

Improv: When acting with a scene partner, make sure everything you say and do reflects what he says and does. It’ll make the performance more enjoyable and you’ll both look good on stage.

An example is if your scene partner calls you George one minute, and then forgets and calls you Pete the next minute. Don’t ignore this mistake. The audience might catch it and label it a big flub up. Instead, accept the mistake as if it were intentional. Say something like “I told you never to call me Pete. You know I changed my identity last year to escape the mafia.”

Encourage these responses to make the scene progress. Wouldn’t you like to learn more about a character with ties to the mafia?

Writing: The easiest way to make your client look good is by writing knock-out content. Your client will get nods from the company for hiring a quality copywriter, so let your writing skills shine. That’ll surely make you look good.

Also, impress your client by showing gratitude for her business. Thank you’s never go out of style, and if your client feels appreciated, she’ll appreciate you in return.

Rule #3: Set the scene with specifics.

Improv: No props are used in improv, so everything you say and do needs to paint a picture with specific details. Dialogue between you and your scene partner should include clues on where you are, how you know each other, and what you’re doing. If you miss these, you might end up with a confused, bored audience.

On a similar note, it’s best to create two characters who have known each other for a while rather than introduce two strangers. If characters have a common familiarity, a lot of complexities to the relationship could come about.

Writing: When you write, be clear on the audience you’re writing to and what you’re trying to convey. You should write conversationally, as if you’re writing to someone you already know. Want to write about fishing tackle? Use words that assume you’re chatting with one of your fishing buddies at the tackle shop.

Be specific about what you’re selling, why it’s worth buying, and how the prospect will benefit. The more you describe the qualities of a product or service, the more it stands out from the competition.

Rule #4: Tell a story.

Improv: You need to come up with a plot to really entertain your audience. What is the story about? How does a problem thicken the plot? How is it resolved?

Intriguing improv shows follow a systematic storytelling formula:

  1. “Once upon a time”
  2. “And every day”
  3. “Until one day”
  4. “And because of that”
  5. “Until finally”
  6. “And ever since then”

You can come up with many amazing characters and concepts by keeping a basic storytelling framework.

Writing: Storytelling is a writing strategy that works like a charm for copywriters. Stories help introduce businesses, highlight their unique qualities, and present memorable info about products or services.

Let’s say you’re writing an About page for a client. Instead of creating a basic bio, use a story format to make things a little more interesting. Introduce your client, write about her background, include a unique reason why she does what she does, and describe why it’s wise to hire her services.

Rule #5: You’ll have failures, but that’s okay.

Improv: When you’re on stage, you never know what’s going to happen. It’s live, it’s exciting, and it’s scary. You’re going to make mistakes and have bad scenes.

But, you’re also going to have amazing scenes that make the audience laugh so hard they fall out of their seats. That’s why diehard improv actors get on stage again and again. Laughter and applause from the crowd make it all worth the effort.

Writing: As a writer, you risk rejection. You won’t get a job with everyone you meet. And some clients are impossible to please. But that’s okay, because you’ll also meet wonderful people who appreciate what you do and pay you well for your skills. It’s worth the risk of failures, because the more you try, the more successes you’ll find.

Life’s a Stage, Make Sure You Play

Improv enthusiasts have coined the term “playtime” when they get together and act. They love what they do, and when the rules of improv are mixed with creativity, the actors produce incredible performances.

The same goes for us web writers. Think of your job more like playtime than work. When you combine the rules of freelance writing with your own creative talents, you’ll find yourself enjoying a successful writer’s life and creating content masterpieces.

[Megan Tyson is a web writer and consultant who specializes in social media and cause marketing. She’s worked as a writer, marketing specialist, and social media manager for trade associations, nonprofits, and the federal government. Visit her website at www.megantyson.com.]

This article, Five Ways the Rules of Improv Apply to Web Writing, was originally published by Wealthy Web Writer.

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Published: April 6, 2011

1 Response to “Five Ways the Rules of Improv Apply to Web Writing”

  1. FYI, improv is short for improvisation. Kind of sounded weird to call it improv throughout the article without ever mentioning the actual name of it.

    Guest (Ken Hoffman)


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