Collaboration & Lessons Learned From Improv

I am not an actor, my husband is. So for years I have stood in the background and watched and listened and learned - because a writer, as you are aware, never knows what might come in handy at some point.

Enter the Five Rules of Improvisation.

As a co-author of a young adult science fiction series, I've come to find the process a bit different from writing alone. I've also found the Rules of Improv have made the process much easier. So for those of you thinking about testing the waters of collaboration here are some ideas that might help:

Improv Rule 1: Anything is possible. As they say, two heads are better than one. Having someone else who is also creative working on a project just increases the energy. When I open myself to the new ideas, I'm often surprised and pleased at the direction I find we are going.

Improv Rule 2: Listen. Listening is a skill that is much needed and rarely used. Most of the time, each of us only listens long enough to determine where we think the other person is going and then we spend the remaining time of their talk working to form our response. When collaborating, it is critical to listen to your partner and even repeat to make sure you both are in sync.

Improv Rule 3. "Yes, and." In Improv you are also working with someone else. If they say, "I'm a chicken farmer," and you say, "No, you're not," the skit is over. When your collaborator says, "I think she should say something like . . ." and you say, "No," your collaboration is over. Using the philosophy of "Yes, and" creates a building of ideas which will result in a stronger relationship and finished product.

Improv Rule 4. Don't only ask questions. This rule is about making the other person come up with the solutions. If my co-author is always asking why? Or how? I'm doing all the work. If I'm the one asking the questions, it's her that is now in that role. Instead, come together with questions as well as the possible solutions to them.

Finally, Improv Rule 5. Know where you are going. You don't need all the final details, just an idea of where you are heading - remember, if you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there.

Write on!
D. Jean Quarles is a writer of Women's Fiction and a co-author of a Young Adult Science Fiction Series. Her latest book, Flight from the Water Planet, Book 1 of The Exodus Series was written with coauthor, Austine Etcheverry.

D. Jean loves to tell stories of personal growth – where success has nothing to do with money or fame, but of living life to the fullest. She is also the author of the novels: Rocky's Mountains, Fire in the Hole and, Perception. The Mermaid, an award winning short story was published in the anthology, Tales from a Sweltering City.  

She is a wife, mother, grandmother and business coach. In her free time . . . ha! ha! ha! Anyway, you can find more about D. Jean Quarles, her writing and her books at her website at

You can also follower her at or on Facebook


mooderino said...

Very interesting. I guess these also apply if you work on your own.

Moody Writing

Luanne G. Smith said...

Just finished writing a short story with someone, and there were a few bumps along the way. Mostly it had to do with each of us having a running script in our head of how the story should go, and so whenever the other person's writing didn't match it, it caused a little friction. The idea of saying "yes" instead of "no" to ideas is a very good tip to collaboration. Say yes and then work it out from there how to proceed.

Karen Cioffi said...

Jean, interesting post. I've never written with a partner, but would love to give it a try one of these days. Great suggestions on making it run smoothly.

I have a children's PB series in contract. Once I have a handle on that, I'll be looking . . .

And, I agree also, saying Yes opens the door in any discussion. No, closes it.

Magdalena Ball said...

Some very interesting ideas here Jean. I've found collaboration to be very exhilarating.

Mary Jo Guglielmo said...

Great Ideas. I love the reminder about Yes... That applies to many areas of life.

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