Improv comedy is about keeping it going.
Building on themes, changing things up with an opening to work on.
You take whatever is going on, whatever is handed to you, add to it and hand it back with a way for someone else to build on it.
Even when there is a change that stops the theme, it is a change of tracks not a cliff: things keep moving they don’t come crashing down.
That’s why improv is hard for some people and easy for others.
Some people have a natural inclination to open dialogue, to keeping things in a state where they can keep moving forward. And some people don’t.
We’re all much better these days at asking open questions rather than closed ones. The fact that we all know what that means is an indicator as to how far we’ve come in changing behaviour.
So why does this fail spectacularly with some criticism?
Sometimes the person offering the criticism believes they have a duty to demonstrate how smart they are and they feel the best way to do this is simply by listing the things that are ‘wrong’, showing that they know they are wrong. And sometimes that’s what’s required, like with copy-editing.
But when criticism is based on ideas, beliefs in themes, knowledge of more esoteric stuff like story arcing or character development, then the criticism needs to be more nuanced, more open. It needs to open things up not shut things down.
With writing we put down ideas and then refine them so they read more smoothly. We want to show that we not only have ideas but that we know how to express them in a way that keeps a reader turning the page, wanting to know more. Sometimes we use clunky grammar or awkward language. Sometimes we let repetition slip in. Sometimes we simply don’t refine it as much as we could for a million different reasons. Well, maybe not a million, but there can be a lot!
When people read our stuff we like feedback. It’s key to knowing where we are getting it right or maybe not so right.
Some people read it from a surface perspective: they look at the painting and ask themselves, ‘do I like the subject and the way it is presented? Do I get it?’
Some people read it from a more technical perspective: ‘is the composition good, are the colours appropriate, has the painting itself been well executed?’
Sometimes we mix metaphors.
So we expect feedback in different forms from different people with different skills and expectations.
When someone simply says, ‘I liked it!’ or ‘It’s not my cup of tea.’ We take that on face-value and move on, knowing that was the feedback we were expecting from that person.
When a person reads it and gives us deeper positive feedback, we listen and absorb, agreeing on some and disagreeing on other aspects.
But when the feedback simply consists of what’s wrong with no positives at all, when it’s simply a listing of faults, some technical and some opinion, with no open criticism, with no positives, we tend to just shut down.
Writers are at heart sensitive souls.
When someone criticises merely to build themselves up by showing how clever they are, they can do a lot of damage.
Constructive criticism is a thing. It’s real. Do it when you can. If you’re not sure what it is, look it up, find out and learn it.
If you’re asked to criticise or it’s your job then please remember that positive criticism is valuable. Purely negative criticism is a waste of everyone’s time and can be incredibly damaging.