There is an exercise in Improv that is based off of the concepts that Pixar use to develop a great story. The exercise that is used is a great was of getting into narrative long form and is also a great thing to look at and focus on when you are in a scene. However saying that, if you look at the Pixar film narrative theory in it’s wider retrospect there are a lot of things that you can gain from it as an improviser. So today we are going to look at Pixars 6 Rules of Great Storytelling and use them in a way to talk about how they can help create great improv.
1) Great Stories are Universal
One of the most important points that Pixar make is that self knowledge and awareness are at the the root of all great storytelling. Think of this in an improv perspective, what have been some of your favourite improv shows you have seen and why? The ones that always stick in my mind are the ones that really focus on the storytelling and make themselves self aware of the storytelling narrative they are telling on stage. If you become aware of the root of you story early on in long form – you can create some wonderful things.
2) Great Stories have a clear structure and purpose
There is a great story structure that Pixar use to create a narrative for their ideas and it is also used in improv as an exercise to focus on how to make sure that you build a story and how to create a narrative. The structure you need to think about is:
Once upon a time there was….
Because of that…
and because of that…
This is a really great routine to go round the circle in a rehearsal where each person takes a different line as it really engages you as a group to focus on the narrative.
3) Great stories have a characters to root for (an underdog)
Everyone loves a great lead character in a story and whilst you may be doing improv, having a strong set of characters is a really good part of any long form narrative show. Whilst everyone loves an underdog character, this isn’t necessarily important for your show but having characters that the audience can remember or relate to is, so trying an think about what you are giving them.
4) Great stories appeal to our greatest emotions
Think about any of your favourite films or television shows and think about the emotions that you have when you watch them. Bringing emotion to improv is a super powerful thing but the great thing about doing it in this environment instead of on the big screen is that you can make it part of your show! Everyone loves a great emotion game and the best thing about improv is you can really pay up to it and make it part of your show – the audience will love it
5) Great stories are surprising and unexpected
You already have a head start on this because all improv is unexpected and sometimes the things that you say are surprising! This creates the best stories and you can do this all the time which is lots of fun.
6) Great Stories are simple and focused
The one thing you should do if you do any sort of improv – that includes long and short, is to focus making sure that the story you are telling is simple and focused. The more simple your narrative is the more fun the audience and the players can have.