Let's revisit our example and try to stumble in the same direction:
Janet: My cousin Ralph is sick.
Frank: Yes, and I will take his shift.
Janet: Yes, and we could never forgive ourselves if you died tonight.
Frank: Yes, and Ralph's illness is his fault, but I'm to blame for swearing to protect you.
Janet: Yes, and what a foolish oath given what's out there [she looks].
Now we're getting somewhere! Here is a scene where I don't feel like it is work from line to line (again, hard to tell on paper but work with me). Five lines in and we feel like we get what sort of scene this is, what could be fun about it, what sort of role Frank and Janet have to play.
So what is different?
- Contrast the scene in part one:
- Most of this scenelet is "about" Ralph on the surface, but rather than re-iterating the "Ralph is sick" information each line adds new information. For example, Frank's first line tells us that Frank and Ralph work/have shifts together and Ralph's sickness seems an imposition to Frank. That's a ton of information from 5 words (and their delivery) compared to the no real info we got from "he is vomiting on my shoe."
- That information makes it less about Ralph at all, and more about Frank, Janet and their situation. While there is no heavy exposition, we get a real sense for who all 3 of these characters are and what this universe is we are creating from these 5 information-packed lines.
- Contrast the scene in part two:
- Both players are digging the same hole, though notice that it takes form and shape as the lines progress. This is good. This is collaborative scenework.
- The first line is about poor cousin Ralph. By the second line we see Ralph's impact. By the third we see the impact is truly Frank's sacrifice. And so forth.
I cheated a bit here by skipping what could be a 3rd step. The information I am adding in this 3rd scene is also some emotionally charged information. That is what I call the information that matters. The information that matters to the two human beings in the scene. The reason I skipped it is that I believe the first two tend to lead to the third. Especially when we get to this part:
HOW DO WE DO IT?
At first, this seems like a lot of new rules to replace or (WORSE) pile onto existing rules. I urge you not to do that. From my POV, you don't need rules. I am breaking this all down so you see why it works not how to do it.
The long answer: I believe that many improvisers upon hearing a line will make a lot of assumptions. For some it is visual, for some it is more logical, but they get made. Take for example, "My cousin Ralph is sick." When you hear that, what pops into your head? Where are we? Is Ralph in the room? Is Janet upset about this news? Glad? Take all those assumptions that are already in your head, and make your next line packed with some information from them.
When I was writing this example, in my mind the sickness had dire consequences. Maybe for you, Ralph is skipping school or we're all dogs or something.
To sum up: yes add information. No you don't need to invent it. Just say what's already in your head. I know this is not as easy as I make it sound.
The shorter answer: YETI. YETI will focus you on emotional content, on relationship truths, and on adding information right at the top of your scenes.
It is better to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a great leap forward only to stumble backward. -Buddhist proverb