The best improv and writing tool ever

Are you stuck for ideas for your scenes and stories? Want a tool to help you start now, with no thinking required? Want to instantly find a character, activity, situation and sense of urgency?

This might be the tool for you!

In my opinion it is the best improv and writing tool ever.

I found it by accident while improv-swotting for the Wurzburg Improv Festival. I haven’t improvised for a while, so was searching for a way to practice by myself, before I meet other improvisers and ruin their lives.

After reading a wonderful article on improv by Dan Goldstein, I was inspired by the idea of starting scenes with an ATTITUDE, and an ACTIVITY on a SPECIAL DAY.

Then I remembered the fantastic Brainstormer App! Simply input three lists and they will display on three spinning wheels. Spin each wheel and receive a unique random scene-starter!


Here are some of the lists I used:

Mischievous, depressed, angry, jealous, moaning, virtuous, vain, suspicious, confused, elated, drunk, grieving…

Dancing, hiding, tickling, writing, drinking, polishing, practising, copying, stretching, jogging…

Olympic final, anniversary of Hitler’s death, our wedding day, the day I admit I love your brother, your birthday, grandma’s 100th birthday, driving test, the day I get knighted…

So a random combination could be:

…which prompted this scene: the Saudi Arabian team have entered us at short notice into the Diving Finals. We have never dived before! So I put on a video of Tom Daley and we watch and figure out how to dive like a champion!

I tried combination after combination and really enjoyed creating an entrance and first line for the scene it prompted. It also occurred to me how awesome a tool this was for writer’s block or for story generation.

You can make your own categories and lists using the Brainstormer App. If you don’t have a smartphone or iPad, make cards, or simply print your lists, close your eyes and point!

Well happy storytelling, folks!

Let’s see if this simple tool makes us better writers and improvisers : )

Keith Johnstone and improvisation

In the fifties in the UK, Keith Johnstone found himself uninspired by the UK school system.  He enjoyed primary school but found secondary school really boring.

Keith in London, 2007

As a young adult he surprisingly became a teacher although he admits he doesn’t know how that happened. However poor his own schooling had been, Johnstone insisted he would make things fun for his pupils, and he believed deeply that everyone could be creative.

He build cardboard tunnels into classrooms, he let his pupils play freely on piano, he typed out the children’s stories while they shouted out the words.

Although other staff and the head didn’t like his approach, he was given a glowing report by the school inspector.

Keith went on to work as a scriptreader at The Royal Court where he began to develop creative ways of telling stories through acting techniques that soon became known as improvisation.

From there, and since the publication of his book ‘Impro’, he has been teaching improvisation classes around the world.

Keith’s exercises encourage actors to play, and create strong dramatic scenes with the audience very much in mind.

His exercises have evolved into performances of improvisation like Theatresports, Micetro and Lifegame. Improvisation theatre can be found in most countries now, popularised by shows like Whose Line Is It Anyway?

Not only are they effective as performance techniques and for creating drama, they are very good for the mind, body and creativity.

To truly be a great improviser you must enter into an open state of mind, you must listen and react to your teammates, you must take risks, suggest new ideas and actions and solve problems, all of which are valuable in everyday life.

When teenagers would ask Keith what they were going to learn in his classes, he would say he could teach them to pick up girls. By allowing the boys to make mistakes in safe roleplay, they would gradually learn what did and didn’t work for romance.

In Johnstone’s improv style, the important thing is storytelling. Being funny isn’t the main point – but often, when a story is truthful and characters are desperate to get out of difficult situations, we find it funny.

I regularly attend improvisation classes and run an improvisation group. I find it’s not only playful, but scary and inspirational. After an impro class I am full of ideas and fun.

So if you want to have a lot of fun and improve your creativity, try taking an improvisation class.