Category Archive: Writing Comedy

L is for Laughs

BLAST_LI’ve spent most of my career writing cartoons and teen sitcoms where getting laughs from the audience is paramount! Not surprisingly, many screenwriters are comedians. I, alas, am not. Luckily, we all have the ability to be funny if we keep in mind the following three tips…

3 Tips for Making People Laugh

Subvert the expected. This is a comedian’s greatest tool. When the audience/reader expects something to play out a certain way but something else happens, they laugh. Here’s a simple example from WRECK-IT RALPH. This character has been set up as a tough soldier who fights giant bugs, and then this happens…

Wreck-It Ralph subvert expected comedy ex

… and the audience laughs. Simple but effective!

Tell the truth. The cold, harsh truth is always good for a laugh, especially if the character would rather not face the truth or have it known. This example is from GALAXY QUEST:

Galaxy Quest harsh truth comedy ex

Find the pain. Lastly, truth is always accompanied by pain, either physical or emotional. The pain of that last example is that Kyle is embarrassed to be caught downloading porn, which we learn immediately when he does this:

Galaxy Quest pain comedy ex

Basically, if the truth doesn’t hurt, it’s not funny! For instance, if someone said, “Her hair is brown,” that’s the truth but is not funny unless the character desperately wants everyone to believe she’s a natural blond. Truth combined with a character’s pain is what makes a joke.

2 Examples of Making People Laugh

GALAXY QUEST. Besides fitting in with our space theme, this movie is an excellent example of classic comedy. Right from the opening scene, it gets to the truth and pain of each character. Take Gwen for example. The truth is that there’s only one woman on the show (a common problem in action movies still) and the pain is she’s only there as eye candy and she hates that. Lots of jokes come from this! Then there’s Guy – the truth is he’s not even an actor, just a glorified extra, and the pain is he wants to be important but his role in the show is to die. As for subverting the expected, the character of Dusty does this well. As expected, the other characters freak out about being on a real alien spaceship, but Dusty does the unexpected – he acts like he knows exactly what he’s doing and starts giving orders to the aliens. Hilarious!

And the second example is a quote from WRECK-IT RALPH that shows all these elements working in tandem:

Wreck-It Ralph comedy quote

When the Surge Protector asks, “Anything to declare?” we expect Ralph to answer yes, no or maybe with respect to the fact that he’s bringing an illegal cherry into the jurisdiction, but instead he comes out of left field and declares, “I hate you.” This answer isn’t just unexpected, it’s the truth and it includes pain (hate). Even Surge Protector’s reply is unexpected, truthful and full of pain: 1) the expected response is anger, but Surge Protector is agreeable, 2) the truth is that he hears this a lot, and 3) the pain is being hated hurts.

1 Link for more help

As I was writing this it dawned on me that comedy sounds brutal! So much pain! But presented the right way, it makes us laugh. Presented a different way, it makes us scream. I reveal how in this post: How Writing Horror is Like Writing Comedy.

Also, if you want a great book to hone your comedy writing skills, check out THE COMIC TOOLBOX by John Vorhaus.

And in case you’re just dropping in now, here’s our April A to Z list thus far:

A is for Antagonist

B is for Backstory

C is for Character Change

D is for Dialogue

E is for External Conflict

F is for False Stakes

G is for Genre

H is for Heroes

I is for Internal Conflict

J is for Juxtaposition

K is for Kittens!

Coming up:

M is for Midpoint

N is for Narrative

O is for Outlines

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J is for Juxtaposition

BLAST_JA few weeks ago I posted on how to use juxtaposition in a setting, as character development and in prose to enhance a scene.

Juxtaposition is:

 

Today I’m writing about how to use juxtaposition in plots and in the action scenes.

3 tips for using juxtaposition.

  • Juxtaposition works well for:  A quick pop of something different (comic relief), for a reversal and as a theme running throughout the whole plot. Developing the logical bridge between the two disparaging areas of comparison is not necessary, but it works best when the reader can follow along and buy into the connection. Get creative and have fun with it – juxtaposition used in action scenes can be funny stuff.

  • A few reoccurring themes in juxtaposition heavy plots and scenes are:

    Characters who misunderstand an item’s intended use and re-purpose it for another use.

    Encino Man

    Film: Encino Man

    When characters act outside the societal roles we expect them to follow. This is one of my favorite themes and works in so many different ways…

    Bad TeacherWhen characters live at odds with the surrounding environment, or the best possible lifestyle. Think of the Districts vs. the Capital in Hunger Games. The futuristic extension of the rich vs. poor theme is often found in dystopian literature.

  • Some plots and genres favor extensive use of juxtaposition scenes more than others:

    Novels with dueling, parallel or counter cut viewpoints.

    Humorous stories, including romantic comedies.

    Fish out of water stories, including most time travel projects.

    Reversals of fortune, and increase of fortune tales.

    Coming-of-age plots use it in many cases, but not all.

    Science fiction, mostly seen in dystopian, steampunk and alternative history, but it can show up anywhere in Sci-Fi.

    In horror, especially in gothic and noir plots.

    Paranormal, supernatural, and magical realism stories.

    2 examples of good craft:

    For my first example I’m picking FEVER CRUMB, but any of the Predator Cities series by Philip Reeve will also work. Who doesn’t love giant moving cities and municipal Darwinism? Fever Crumb has so many juxtaposing examples, like the electronic surveillance and killing machines fashioned out of two glued-together sheets of paper and run by recycled wire harnesses. I know it sounds odd, but once they start unfolding themselves, slipping under a victim’s front door and walking around, you’ll see my point. Trust me, it works!

    FRANKENSTEIN is my second pick. Science is perfectly at odds with the era, it’s exploded into something unimaginable and grotesque. Love it! The idea of a reanimated corpse is juxtaposition at it’s finest. Although it’s also the cornerstone of all zombie fiction, but some writers just do it better than others.

    1 link for more help:

    You can read my post on Juxtaposition, linked above or this one from Movie Online which has a number of great examples from TV and movies.

 

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How Writing Horror is like Writing Comedy

MoviePoster-ScreamIt’s almost Halloween! So here at Write On Sisters we’ve lined up a week of scary writing tips and tricks.

I love scary stories. I grew up reading R.L Stine and Christopher Pike and Lois Duncan. I experienced the teen slasher flick revival that started with the movie SCREAM. I wanted to write my own scary stories! However, I spent the last decade writing comedic kids television shows. What the heck happened?

Well, frankly, I found out writing comedy requires the same elements as writing horror. Seriously, these seemingly opposing genres are really two sides of the same coin. Here’s why…

4 Basic Elements of Comedy and Horror

  1. Relatability. In order for your audience to laugh or scream, they need to relate. We’ve all seen jokes fall flat because the audience doesn’t “get it.” Take the TV show PORTLANDIA, for example. I live in an urban area full of hipsters, so when I watch the scene of the couple in the restaurant asking way too many questions about the organic chicken they’re about to eat, I laugh because I know those people. My parents, on the other hand, live in a small town and don’t know anyone like that, so they don’t get the joke. Same with fear. SCREAM terrified me because I know what it’s like to be home alone in an isolated house in the country. I can relate. Many people do. The handy thing about writing horror is that there are so many common human fears (isolation, darkness, claustrophobia, drowning, etc) to draw on. Less universal fears such as snakes, spiders or ghosts usually need to be paired with common fears to make the situation more relatable. That’s why ghost stories often take place in an isolated house at nighttime.
  2. Anticipation. Now that you have a situation that your audience can relate to, which will make them laugh or scream, build up the anticipation. An expert stand up comic will string you along with little laughs that build to the punch line. And a good horror story gives you little thrills and chills that lead to a big scare. It can’t be all punch lines or screams all the time. That desensitizes the audience. Make them wait for it.
  3. Danger. In comedy, the danger usually isn’t life-threatening, but the character must still be terrified of whatever it is (poodle, mother-in-law, unemployment, etc). In horror, the danger is literally trying to kill the hero. Now, a lot of writers would call this “stakes”, and that is accurate, but I’m classifying this element as “danger” because it’s important that your character fear it. Because now you can taunt them with that fear! That’s right, both comedy and horror writers constantly force characters into situations that scare them, the only difference is comedy plays it for laughs, and horror plays it for screams.
  4. Surprise. This seems like an obvious one for horror; surprise is its game. The killer pops up behind the heroine, the body falls out of the closet, the monster leaps out of the shadows, and everyone screams. But comedy taught me that there’s more to surprise than a sudden visual. Surprise comes from the gap between what the audience thinks will happen and what actually happens. Here’s an example from a kids comedy show I worked on called THE LATEST BUZZ: two characters are trying to make a decision, so one pulls a coin out of his pocket and suggests they flip on it. Then he does a backflip. The audience laughed because they expected him to flip the coin, but instead he flipped himself! (Handy to have an actor who’s a gymnast.) For a horror example, take the movie ALIEN. [spoiler alert] After they find the alien dead and Kane recovers from its attack, the crew gets together for a nice, normal dinner. Everything’s fine until Kane convulses and an alien bursts through his chest! Whoa! No one saw that coming! The result: big screams. So always think about what are your audience’s expectations. If they assume one thing, do the opposite, and the surprise will be even bigger and scarier!

See? Writing comedy is a lot like writing horror. And now I’m ready to write a scary script… Bwa-ha-ha-haaaaa!

 

 

 

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