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'Yes, And' and Blocking - The Principles of Cooperative Storytelling

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'Yes, And' and Blocking - The Principles of Cooperative Storytelling

Post  Sharpiefan on Sat Jan 18, 2014 1:20 am

Yes, And and Blocking - The Principles of Cooperative Storytelling
Or: How to make sure your thread doesn't come to a dead halt.
by Heranje on RPG-Directory wrote:In order for an improvised scene to be successful, the improvisers involved must work together responsively to define the parameters and action of the scene, in a process of co-creation. With each spoken word or action in the scene, an improviser makes an offer, meaning that he or she defines some element of the reality of the scene. These activities are also known as endowment. It is the responsibility of the other improvisers to accept the offers that their fellow performers make; to not do so is known as blocking, negation, or denial, which usually prevents the scene from developing. Accepting an offer is usually accompanied by adding a new offer, often building on the earlier one; this is a process improvisers refer to as "Yes, And..." and is considered the cornerstone of improvisational technique. Every new piece of information added helps the improvisers to refine their characters and progress the action of the scene.

Just as Yes, And is the cornerstone of improvisational technique, so is it the cornerstone of roleplaying. It is, simply, the act of accepting the idea that is given to you by your fellow player, and then adding to that idea. I believe the Yes, And principle is absolutely vital to playing out a good thread - and it's time we in the roleplaying world became more aware of it.

How is a roleplayer like an improv actor?
While we may not be playing entirely for laughs, and we're not up on a stage producing rapid-fire ideas, most roleplay involves at least some degree of improvisation to make a thread's story come about - even in the most heavily-plotted scenes; and it's really all about working together with another person to build a scene. That's why it's important for us to be aware of Yes, And and use the trick to our advantage. In this documentation I'm going to use examples to illustrate the importance of Yes, And, and suggest some reasons why you might not be doing it.

No and No, But - The two sides of blocking.
Roleplayer 1 wrote:Frost had begun to gather on the grass. Susan shivered, the cold was beginning to penetrate her clothes. "Let's go inside." She told Peter. "It's freezing."
Roleplayer 2 wrote:Peter looked at Susan. He wasn't cold at all, it was still quite warm out. "It's not cold." He said.
This is an example of a classic No - 2 rejects 1's suggestion that it is cold, effectively blocking the direction 1 was trying to bring the thread, and does not add anything new to the situation. This could of course lead to an argument between the characters about whether it is cold or warm - but if 1 wanted to play a situation where it was in fact cold, 2 has ruined that, which may leave 1 annoyed, and for now the situation is stagnant. Even worse is if 2's No goes so deep that he denies not only that it's cold in general, but that Susan could be feeling cold.
Roleplayer 2 wrote:Peter lay in the grass enjoying the warm summer sun beating against his skin, perfectly content to be outside on this beautiful day. "It's such a nice day out." He said, turning over to his side to look at Susan. Let's go swimming!"

Here, 2 is responding with No, Butno, it's not a cold day, and the characters should not go inside, but it's warm and they should go swimming. While this does push the thread in a direction, it's presumably not the direction 1 wanted it to go. 2 is taking control of the thread with his ideas at the expense of 1's, which is frustrating for 1 and can lead to a tug-of-war if the No, Buting continues on both ends.

This is clearly annoying. So why block?
There are a few reasons someone might block an idea given to them in a thread. The first is that they simply haven't noticed. This can happen especially where setting is concerned. 2 didn't read 1's post properly and so didn't catch that it was supposed to be cold, or he forgot when he was writing his post - if this is the issue, it's fairly straightforward to deal with. Simply pointing out someone's mistake might be enough, and if you're the perpetrator, thoroughly reading your partner's posts helps.

However, there is also the chance that 2 is blocking 1's suggestion because he didn't agree with it - he doesn't want the thread to be set in cold weather or for the characters to go inside, so he tries to steer it in a different direction. But if instead of doing that he had either spoken to 1 and tried to reach a consensus before he made his post, or decided to accept 1's premise and then added a twist he liked, the thread would run a lot more smoothly.

A third possibility is that 2 blocks 1's idea because for Peter, the idea would be out of character. Maybe Peter can't feel cold, or he's scared of going indoors, and so 2 could not go along with that. There are still ways to respond without blocking the suggestion outright. What 1 is stating is that Susan is feeling cold, that the weather is making her feel that, and that she wishes to go inside - but 1 does not have a right to dictate how Peter feels about the temperature or whether he wants to move. A Yes in this situation has to acknowledge that Susan is feeling cold and that the weather is causing this, but 2 can use the And to establish why Peter doesn't feel the same, if he wouldn't.

Not all Yes'es are equal.
Roleplayer 2 wrote:Peter rubbed his arms, trying to restore some warmth. "Brr, you're right." He said. "Let's go inside right away."

The plain Yes. This is the situation you hear a lot of roleplayers complaining about - their partner is simply following along with the things they do, responding to the actions in their post but not adding anything of their own. This leaves one roleplayer having to pull the whole weight of the thread's progression, which can get taxing and frustrating, and while the thread isn't coming to a halt like when 2 was blocking, it's still not going to move very fast - especially not if 1 gets tired of adding new ideas on their own.

Roleplayer 2 wrote:Peter had been shaking for some time, and the moment Susan spoke he stood up. "Yeah, let's go - "I'm turning into a popsicle here." He said, reaching out a cold hand to help her to her feet. He looked around for a moment, wrinkling his forehead. "Wait, do you remember which way we came?"

Now, in this post, 2 is doing a perfect Yes, And. Yes, it's so cold the characters should go inside, and they may not know the way back. This doesn't just accept the idea 1 put into the thread, but adds another plot element to it, pushing the story's progression ahead. Now 1 can respond to this new impulse, adding something else to it, and in that way they can bounce back and forth and create a story together - maybe Susan thinks she knows the way and starts walking in the wrong direction? Maybe Peter trips and falls, hurting his leg? Maybe Susan runs off to get help? Maybe Peter encounters a wolf while he's lying alone? Together, 1 and 2 can build an exciting thread - as long as they respond to each other's ideas not with uncooperative No, not with frustrating No, But, not with boring Yes, but with the fabulous Yes, And.

It's not just about action.
Yes, And applies even in threads where the only thing going on is a conversation. One of the most frustrating things a roleplayer can do when their character is talking to another character is to just have their character respond to what the other says, without adding anything for their partner to respond to in turn. Similarly, having one character ignoring the things another is saying (unless it's for a reason that drives the plot forward) or the roleplayer acting like they haven't said anything at all can be really frustrating. Unless your intention is to create an awkward silence between the characters, remember: yes, my character will respond to what the other has said, and they will add something of their own.

It's not just about the weather.
Yes, And applies to all aspects of building a scene and a story, and it's really important when it comes to relationships and interactions between characters, as well. Have another example.
Roleplayer 1 wrote:"I'm going to kill you." George said, walking toward Bob with the knife in his hand. He had killed before, he knew how easy it was.
Roleplayer 2 wrote:Bob knew George wouldn't kill him. "Oh, George, you don't mean that." He said, walking toward his friend.

Here we've got a situation where 1 is playing a character that can and will kill 2's character, but 2 is not having his character respond as if this is the case (in other words, a No / No, But response). This may be in-character for Bob, but it lands 1 in an awkward situation (assuming 2 doesn't actually want his character killed) of having to find a way to stop George from doing what would be in-character for him.

If Bob's not the type to run away or take George's threat seriously, that doesn't have to be what happens - a Yes, And could consist of, for example, adding some outside element that keeps George from getting to Bob. If you want a certain outcome, you can't expect your partner to do all the work of getting you there. In other words, if you don't want your character to be hacked up with a knife, don't have them hug the knife-wielding maniac.

Be wary of Yes, And And And And
Accepting one idea and adding one other is Yes, And formula - if you add too many new ideas in a single response, you leave the other player with a whole lot to Yes, and they may feel the thread is running away from them. Be wary of how long a period of time your reply spans and leave room for the other player to comfortably respond and elaborate without flooding them - they've got a right to control the thread progression too. If you've got a lot of ideas you could space them out between your posts, or discuss them with the other player and share the job of telling the story.

Is this absolute?
Of course not - nothing is. In certain situations, other responses than Yes, And might be necessary - just like improv actors sometimes block offers for comedic effect. However, in the majority of cases I'd say Yes, And makes for more smooth-flowing, interesting and exciting threads, and a lot less frustration.

So, the next time you're poised to reply to a thread, stop and ask yourself - what am I saying here? If it's not Yes, And, have a look at why, and consider what you can change to make it so.

If you agree with this documentation, please share it with your RPing friends! Let's transform as many roleplayers as we can into glorious, cooperative, plot-fuelling Yes, And'ers. And if you disagree with anything I've written or something in my explanation is not clear, please let me know.

Miss Emma Vickery
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Rifleman Gabriel Cotton, 5/60th Rifles
Private George Thompson, Royal Marines
Private Tom Oxley, Royal Marines drummer
Able Seaman Sam Oxley, Royal Navy
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