Kage Baker usually affords me a blog topic with no difficulty whatsoever. Our life was so entertaining (at least for us) and her mind so wide-ranging and fertile, that it’s been easy to keep riffing on it through nearly 5 years and just over 1,000 posts.
Tonight I am feeling unusually foggy, though, so I thought I’d reverse my usual practice. Instead of noodling my way through a blog and then applying myself to an orderly bit of work on a story, I’m going to try it the other way around. I could claim it’s a clever exercise in isolating story points, but it’s not. I’m just awfully prone to talking to myself. That’s been a big help, too.
Of course, native verbosity (mine) also helps. One of my natural skills has always been to go on at audience-stunning length about nearly anything. I competed in Impromptu in Forensics contests in high school – huzzah for the alternate NFL! – and even lettered in it. The jockesses in our all-girls high school held my letter sweater in utter scorn, too, since as far as they could see, I was being honoured merely for being the over-erudite motor-mouth I was in class anyway …
Impromptu, by the way, is not the same event as Improvisation. The latter requires you to memorize 12 to 15 minutes of a dramatic or comedic speech, and then deliver it in character. It’s hard; I could never do it Impromptu, on the other hand … you get a subject assigned at the beginning of the round; then you have 5 to 15 minutes to come up with a speech on that topic. Then you have to give your own, noteless, just-composed 10 minute speech. It’s like competing in luge as opposed to bobsled – it’s faster, it’s crazier, and the chance to wipe out and kill yourself is just soooo much better!
I loved it.
It was also excellent training for many important parts of my adult life. Doing Faires called on improvisational skills at every moment – eating your lunch, snogging your sweetie, heading to the privies – under the rule of “If the audience can see you, you’re in character” all sorts of conversations had to be improvised in character, in accent and on the fly.
Office work, especially in customer service, also required considerable impromptu skills. No matter what kind of script you have developed for dealing with the public, you’ll get a rogue every now and then. How do you handle a gentleman who tells you he wants to place an ad for someone to kill his wife? (Kage said he was kidding. She thought.) And you must be able to control your voice when someone on the other end of a call informs you that her name is Contessa Divine Gaspang. And that she is calling to change her name – to Imperatrix Divine Gaspang. (Our company insured aaall the Gaspangs. And they aaall had names like that.)
And, of course, when you come down to it, writing too is a form of impromptu. The writer sets her own topic – but sometimes finds she knows nothing about it, and is forced to scramble for a way concoct an entire plot. The length of the presentation is set by the hopes of the author and the dictates of the publisher: many a novel has only seen the light of day after being carved into chunks and used to seed several other projects. It doesn’t work if you can’t keep to your topic and your plot all the way through. Stammering, stuttering, repetition, too many “ums” and “ahs” will condemn you to the outer darkness. And you’ll find out everything anyone thinks you did wrong, too, because you get reviews from all the judges …
Kage didn’t compete in the NFL, but she watched me do it. She herself learned impromptu skills from an ex-Mouseketeer standing on a hay bale, and practiced them in the streets and in all her cubicles in what she called the Pink Collar Ghetto. And they turned out to still be just what she needed when she began attending Conventions – because people ask questions, some of them quite bizarre, and you’ve got be able to answer quickly, completely and (ideally) entertainingly.
And by being sneaky, Dear Readers, I’ve managed to fill in 700-odd words about another facet of Kage’s process – and, by extension, mine. I don’t think every writer needs to try their hand at public speaking. But if they do well, most will find themselves someday facing an expectant crowd, eager and willing to be dazzled by real live words.
It helps if you’ve had some practice. Get a friend or family member, and ask them to throw things at you – something soft, like marshmallows or socks or kittens. Then CATCH! And deliver a speech about it while you do.
After a while, it gets easy. Almost …
Is improvisation the same as extemporaneous in the world of debate/forensics?
I remember freezing up and being unable to come up with anything during one college forensics tournament when I was told to pretend that I was Goldilocks, who happened to be a homicide detective investigating the murder of Papa Bear. Nothing same to mind. Nada.
In good old pro and con debate I can (and will) argue the hind leg off a donkey on such topics as whether dogs should be given the vote (definitely) and whether cannibalism should be legalized (probably not.)
Forensics was loads of fun. Thanks for the reminiscence.
Sounds like it’s the same thing. I just loved that stuff – it was like Russian Roulette crossed with Mad Libs. I was very fond of debate as well, but it wasn’t nearly as nuts as the Impromptu. Unless you could get away with making up fake references … but you had to depend on your partner not to panic if you did that.
It was all also terrific practice for those times when Kage wanted to brain storm.