Monday, September 29, 2014

Monday Rerun: Failing With Style

By Rich

The following column ran back in March of 2013. Seeing I'm on a whirlwind tour of the East Coast that included a weekend Improv performance, I figured this one was apt.

In improvisational acting, particularly short-form comedy seen in shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway, there are a few guidelines actors are asked to follow in order to keep a scene smooth, funny, and interesting to an audience hopped up on stale beer and Skittles. For instance, performers try not to ask questions in a scene -- it slows the action down as the other characters need to come up with a viable answer. Same thing goes for telling someone you're acting with that you won't take their suggestion but instead will be a nuclear physicists who is also a celebrity chef. The third guideline provided to students in Improv 101, and the most important one, is -- cue the dramatic pause -- if you fail, do so magnificently.

Improv is a disposable form of theater. Should a character not get the reaction they want, or a joke falls flat, or everyone on stage stares blankly at each other for three minutes, it's all moot when someone ends the scene. As soon as it occurs, the actors need to throw the failed scene in the virtual trash, wipe their hands of it, and focus on the next one. That, or do something at the end of the previous scene which, even though it may totally bomb, gives you a feeling something was done to save it. No dwelling, blaming others, or angrily slapping your head at a line you should have said. It's done...move on.

The same practice needs to be utilized for authors, because we fear failure more than death, taxes, and zombies combined. At the merest hint of someone not liking what we wrote, many of us crawl under our beds and sob while devising evil plans to dispose of our critics. Instead of fearing failure, we need to embrace it while moving it to the time out corner. After notifying the failure of what it did wrong, we can move on to the next thing in our writing cadre.

In other words, don't think of the rejection letter from the big publishing house as a sign your writing career is over. Think of it as a magnificent failure, since they actually sent you a letter. Hang it above your desk and, in the very near future, show it to everyone as you describe how your global success resulted due to this glorious example of your failure.

Have you ever taken a failure and turned it into a success?


John Paul McKinney said...

How true, Rich. Good advice!

Patricia Stoltey said...

I love your attitude, Rich. It's truly a waste of time to whine and cry about these things because it's all part of the writing journey.

Lynn said...

Fascinating info about improv. I'm a big fan of Whose Line Is It Anyway. And you're so right -- dealing with failure is a huge part of the writing process. When I want to crumble, I hear my late father's voice say, "Buck up, girl. That can't stop you unless you let it."

Theresa Jewel Pinkston said...

Moving the rejection to the "time out corner" and "notifying the failure of what IT did wrong" is a terrific idea. Instead of hiding ourselves in a corner and feeling bad about the rejection, we blame it more on the publisher that rejected it.

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