Beginning with the Drama Club at the Y and continuing with classes in acting, the teacher always set aside some time for improvisation. Approaching one member of the class, he or she would speak in a low voice and say something like this:
“You are a spy and you must make this man fall in love with you. You must find out what information he has.”
The instructor would then approach your acting partner.
“Find out why this woman is here. What she knows. Do anything you have to but get the information.”
Example 2: The assignment for the next class was becoming an animal. Most of the class chose the ones with four feet. I lived closer to the aquarium and spent an afternoon studying a fish.
Sleepless one night, I began to think about those days as an actress and realized improvising had a lot in common with writing. You begin with your idea of what the characters should do, why they’re doing it and what the story and the theme is about. Then, sometimes without any warning, your characters decide they want to go in another direction. Your villain isn’t your villain anymore, an unlikely heroine emerges, and a chapter or two or three needs to be cut. You try to keep to your original idea but your characters are stronger than you and you think-Oh, what the hell, I’ll try it their way.
Usually they’re right.
I’m into the first draft of a new book and so far-so far my characters have behaved but my instinct tells me they’re biding their time and we’ll be having a few discussions about the right direction for the novel. How much of a say, do you allow your characters?