The art of improvisation. An act of instantaneous creation straight from your mind. Swirling thoughts cohering into a pattern of comprehensible story. Ever wonder if you could sling out a game right out of your posterior? Craft a great story right onto your document? With no outline or formulated script?
Improvisation is something everyone can do. I firmly believe humans can craft wonderful things with little time. Everything goes into preparation for improvisation. Below I will give you some pointers on how to make things on the fly and be a true improve master.
Have the urge. First you need the fire to create. It has to be a 24 hour machine, never turning off. Never let it go out. People will try and put you down. Many people hate seeing others succeed. Friends and family may dislike or even shun what you do. Never let someone else dictate what you want to do. We all have a role to play in society and our parents and family should be encouraging us to be the best we can be. Too often a creative soul will die in childhood because their parents want them to be a doctor or lawyer. Nothing wrong with either profession, but if your talents lie in the field of creativity, you need to stoke the fires and keep them burning. Often when the urge to create dies out, we decay and die, from the inside. Get that urge to create and keep it going.
This point is crucial. You cannot be a top chef without quality ingredients. For storytelling in novels or TTRPG games you need to read great material. This point is subjective of course. But usually you can find a consensus on what material is good and what sucks. Find great works of literature and read, read and READ. William Shakespeare’s plays contain an excellent source of material for all types of storytelling. More modern examples such as Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker and Anne Rice can show you a whole new world. It is OK to take a little from here and some from there. There is nothing “new” under the sun. But there are endless combination.
For role-playing games even improvisation needs preparation. You should know the book and have many references on hand. Read the game master’s guide several times. Have tons of NPC stats on hand and random events. Know your world. This is obvious, but picking up an adventure at the hobby shop and playing that night takes a lot of skill and practice. This thought leads me to…
Lots of practice and failure. Do not fear failure. A majority of people who succeed in life do so out of blind luck or a crap-load of failures. Improvisation is a talent and a mindset. You must develop it. Start off by working with understanding friends. Or get your pet to be your audience. Most importantly get the urge out. This goes back to number one, stoking the fires of creation. You need to let out the flames and feed it more wood. So what if your cat complains about you storytelling. Figure out why and try again. The beauty of life is there is a tomorrow. You can try again.
Be fearless. This is not the same as being reckless. Or lacking the knowledge of fear. It is seeing the cliff, but knowing you have a glider. To be fearless you must know fear, consume it and then expel the feelings. Leave the feeling behind and bring forth your true self. When you tell the story, share your thoughts, do so in a way that is fearless. Get past the butterflies and swallow them. Once you start the first line, say the first lyric, sing the verse the noise of fear will dissipate. Never let it consume you. To be fearless it means action. Plan on taking the first step. Concentrate on it.
Learn how to flow with events and actions. Every writer and story teller should be a student of life. Watching events unfold should be one of your many pastimes. Absorb great prose and watch how great writers unfold events. See actions as artwork. The dancer and the illustrator both make rhythmic movements. Learn to see the patterns in all. Know that notes made on a guitar form patterns like that of a great novel. Our thoughts make more sense in coherent patterns. In fact people get great satisfaction in identifying reoccurring themes. We are the worlds best pattern-recognition machines and we gain pleasure from seeing the rhythm around us. When you create a game or story there is a pattern you need to see and grok. Be able to see several endings for your characters. Know sometimes life can be random. But there is a way to tie characters into the action of your devised plots without railroading the idea. Create backgrounds, tribes and stories for your characters. Play on them. Incorporate their lives into the story you want to tell. When the Tome of Horrors becomes a resting place for a character’s dead uncle, the group will go there and not ignore all that hard work. Find a pattern in your story. Work it and harmonize it with the other elements.
The final key to creating a wonderful improvisation story is vision. Being able to understand your players and the goals you have will enable you to incorporate all sorts of plot elements and events. Allow for random individuality. But hold on to your final goal. If your characters are drifting from the story you set down find out why. Usually the goals you have are not tied directly to the players. Bring emotion to your game. Give the players a reason to care about your dungeon holding a dragon within. Tie your characters to the end goal and ensure the knots you create will not come apart.