I used to do this trick where I’d tell a story, totally impromptu, making it up as I go along. I’d do this performing to a live audience. The general consensus from the feedback I got is that, over time, I got fairly good at it. I haven’t tried it in years, mind, so I don’t know if I still have the knack.
But I’ve been thinking recently about how I did it. I relied on a number of tricks – stylistic language, the rule of three, creative repetition, and a basic, even formulaic, idea of story structure.
I’m going to start with that last one first, because it is actually the most important one for writing. The others are mostly embellishments, so we’ll get to them later.
Usually, in impromptu work, the performer is given a topic or challenge. This does two things: first, it keeps the performer from just telling some already memorized work and second, it gives the performer a starting point. I tended to work from three things, often a character, a place, and an item, which I asked the audience to provide.
So, basic story structure: We start with a hero (character) in an established situation (place) who has something that he or she needs to do (perhaps acquiring or delivering an item). The necessary conflict is generated when doing the necessary thing doesn’t turn out to be easy.
The story is resolved when the hero succeeds. How satisfying the story is depends on how cleverly and how easily the character succeeds.
And that’s where the rule of three comes in, which I’ll explain next time.