The importance of “Yes, and…”
This article was written for us by Brian aka Crimsyn from the USS Portland in Obsidian Fleet.
At heart, role-playing is an exercise in improvisation (albeit, in our medium, with the advantage of being able to coordinate out of character as we write), and if you google “improv rules,” you’ll find numerous lists of dos and don’ts on how to do improv successfully, but one of the most important is to always say “Yes, and…” So, what does saying “yes, and…” entail?
Offers and acceptance
In the world of improv, an offer is basically anything which adds to the scene. It could be suggesting a plan, like “if you two create a diversion, we can sneak around the back and get the drop on them.” It could be a leading question, such as “so, are you from around here?” giving the other player an opportunity to expand on their character’s background. Or it could be something as simple as asserting a detail in the scene – say, commenting on the opulence of the light fixtures in the bar, establishing that it’s a ritzy establishment. When another player puts something forward, he’s making an offer. And offers should generally be accepted and built upon. Hence, “yes, and…”
First off, don’t say no.
Imagine you are starting a scene where your character approaches another and says “Another rainy day in London. Good thing I’m wearing a raincoat.” A good improviser would respond with something like “You’re lucky, my umbrella got caught in a gust of wind. There it is floating down the Thames.” A bad improviser would respond with something like “We’re in Paris, not London, and it’s sunny out. Why did you bring a raincoat to the Louvre?” Negating what others have established does the opposite of moving the scene forward. It brings everything to a screeching halt and confuses and frustrates other players. Also, it becomes clearly evident in the writing when two players are working against each other rather than with each other.
Try to say yes!
If another player offers up something to move the scene forward, try to take it and run with it. Say another character has figured out a plan to earn some gold-pressed latinum by cheating at dabo. Having your character stop the other character from cheating doesn’t move the scene forward. It stops the scene from escalating, and short circuits what could be a fun scene for everyone. Really, you’ve just wrote a scene where nothing actually happens. Not only have you created a boring scene for the readers, but you’ve also frustrated the other players who were invested in the scene. Way to go. And no, “that’s what my character would do” isn’t an excuse for this sort of behavior.
Instead, let the other character cheat. Now, how does your character react? Does he tip off the bar owner? Does he tell the captain that another crew member is a disgrace to the Starfleet uniform? Or does he come to the other character’s aid, providing a necessary distraction (in exchange for a cut of the winnings, perhaps)? All of these are potentially interesting directions for the story to progress in.
Sometimes this can mean meta-gaming a bit. Maybe our character would naturally say no to something, but saying yes would make for a better scene. The trick is, we’re all creative people, we can generally think up a reason why our shy shut-in character would accept that offer from Petty Officer Beefcake to go to the holodeck for a nice romantic dinner if that would make for a cool scene. A bit of meta-gaming like this can help create interesting scenes.
That said, saying yes to something out of character doesn’t always mean saying yes in-character. Sometimes, what the other character is offering (or you can counter-offer with) is some in-character conflict. Perhaps it can be just as interesting for a character to reject another character’s romantic advances and play the poor sap whose love is unrequited, or perhaps playing hard to get can make for some entertaining scenes. But whatever you do, don’t block.
After you say yes, add to the scene.
The “and” part of “yes, and…” is equally important. A scene can just as easily be suffocated by a player accepting what is being established but not adding to the scene as it can be derailed by flat-out blocking. Consider a scene where one character is trying to carry on a conversation but the other character is doing little more than saying “yeah, sounds cool” and nodding along. While sometimes it can be good to sit back and let the other player do some exposition, for a scene to be truly meaningful, there needs to be some back and forth.
Doing things like writing an inconsequential response and tagging someone else, or responding to a conversation with open ended questions and passing the buck back to the other player doesn’t add a whole lot to the scene. It shifts the responsibility to the other player to establish the surroundings and move the scene forward. This forces the other players to do all the heavy lifting, dragging your character through the scene.
I know it’s tempting sometimes to try to avoid adding to the scene. Sometimes you’ve lost your muse or have writer’s block. Sometimes you’re not sure where the scene is going to go. Sometimes the scene has gotten so chaotic that it’s hard to see how it’s going to de-escalate, or you’ve lost track of what’s going on but are expected to tag in. And sometimes people are afraid that they’ll add something wrong which will ruin the CO’s story and make the CO mad at them (Don’t be! The only way to ruin a story is to make it boring!). But if you’re not going to add to the scene or do anything consequential, you might as well not reply at all.
“Yes, and…” is a powerful role-playing tool. When collaborating on a scene, nothing can derail it faster than blocking. It’s why good players are more than just good writers; good players know how to work together with others to create cool and interesting stories. If ever you’re stuck on a scene, a little bit of “yes, and…” can go a long way.