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6 Rules of Improv

Improv is a form of theatre that is unplanned and unscripted such that dialogue, story, action, location and characters are created spontaneously and collaboratively without a script. This is used extensively in the training of actors. There is also significant interest in improv as a form of general education, training and self-improvement. Improv forces individuals to break out of static ways of thinking such that it is viewed as a path to building elusive skills such as creativity and adaptability. The following are the basic rules of improv.


Participants always build upon each addition to the story and never reject anything. As such, each turn begins with a verbal or implied "yes." As a training exercise, this is interesting as it runs contrary to the tendency in education and corporate environments to constantly apply critical thinking such that it is rare to build on the ideas of others.
A: Well, we have to go down to the planet.
B: Yes ...

Yes, And

As the story needs to progress, each turn involves adding something to the story known as an offer. An offer can be a location, character, detail or plot development. As such, each turn can be summed up with the rule "yes, and." This requires significant creativity as you need to build on unexpected turns in the story.
A: Well, we have to go down to the planet.
B: Yes, Chewbacca got stuck there.

Don't Block

This is the first rule stated in a different way. It is against the rules to block an offer. Blocking can involve denying or sidelining an offer by ignoring it. It can also involve adding something that makes the offer impossible. The following illustrate these three methods of blocking.
A: Well, we have to go down to the planet.
✗ No we don't ....

A: Well, we have to go down to the planet.
✗ (ignores) I need to fix this computer

Rendering Impossible:
A: Well, we have to go down to the planet.
✗ The planet is gone. It blew up yesterday.

No Passing With Questions

Questions can be used as dialogue but not as a means to pass on your contribution and make others do all the work. For example, using a question to make someone handle their own plot twist.
A: Well, we have to go down to the planet.
✗ Why?

A: Well, we have to go down to the planet.
✓ Great, can you help me put on my spacesuit? It's a little tight.

Include Everyone

Avoid dominating a scene or giving long monologues. It is also common for improv to involve the audience as a means of proving that the story wasn't preplanned.

No Mistakes

Build upon other's mistakes as opportunities. Mistakes are often the peak moments of comedic improv.
B: Yes, Chewbacca got stuck there.
C: I have located Chowbaki on the planet, he's at a disco
D: I love your Belgian accent.


Advanced improv may break these rules. As with any pursuit, the rules are more for beginners.
"Yes, and" is the primary rule of improv.
The rules of improv mostly apply to the opening as characters and the basic plot are quickly in place. A common pattern that emerges in improv is "if this is true, this is also true" whereby participants explore the implications of all the offers that have been accepted.
Offers can create a physical environment or assign physical attributes to characters. It is considered blocking to do anything that goes against this physical reality. For example, to ignore a river that has been established as running through the stage.
It can be considered blocking to do something that is highly improbable such as surviving after a tree has fallen on you.
Improve can involve mystery props and other devices such as a randomly chosen word or phase that have to be incorporated into the story.


This is the complete list of articles we have written about storytelling.
Artistic License
Character Development
Character Flaws
Dry Humor
Design Fiction
Deux Ex Machina
Direct Language
Literary Device
Figurative Language
Hypothetical Question
Inside Jokes
Jumping The Shark
Rhetorical Device
Lost The Plot
Message Framing
Tone Of Text
Metaphysical Conceit
Verbal Irony
Want To Believe
Narrative Thread
Non Sequitur
Peak-End Rule
Red Herring
Rhetorical Question
Rule Of Three
Slice Of Life
Suspension Of Disbelief
Looking Glass
Word Of Mouth
More ...
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