Writing Comedy – Heide and Iain’s tips

The following comedy writing  tips are supporting notes for Heide and Iain’s comedy workshop.

Character

  • Develop characters to ensure you have conflict (give them opposing traits)
  • Lay them out visually; examine every line between every character to see what they have in common, where they are opposites
  • An “agent of chaos” is invaluable – the character who will say the unsayable

World / setting

  • We’re looking for something that challenges the characters e.g. fish out of water
  • Reduce the size of the place & time to maximise comedy
  • Scale the setting (so the embarrassing thing happens in front of a huge audience or on live TV)
  • Danger / conflict. Put the characters somewhere with potential for peril / mishaps
  • Undermine expectations (if the setting is formal like a wedding, the custard pie fight is better)

Dialogue

  • Misuse of words
  • Misunderstanding (“are you sexually active?”, “no I just lie there”)
  • Urgency vs understatement used together (“Can you tell me where room 1102 is?” “Oh, call someone, my baby is coming now!” “So…you don’t know?”)
  • Jargon / terminology / made up words & phrases (e.g. how much people like saying “flux capacitor”)
  • Vulgarity. Startling combinations work better than outright swearing (cockwomble, jizztrumpet)

Generating and developing ideas

Where to find funny ideas

  • Ask the hive mind (See Iain’s #lazywriter hashtag!)
  • Visualise a funny picture with your characters in it
  • Watch sitcoms (there are numerous variations on similar setups)
  • “what if”

Take every idea that you have and make it bigger and crazier

  • Chase your character up a tree and throw rocks at them.
  • Assume your first idea is too lame. What does the “turn it up to 11” version look like?

Narrative voice, word choice

  • Specifics (gorgonzola is funnier than cheese)
  • Words with ‘K’ in them are acknowledged to be funnier (pickle…)
  • “Belgium” is inherently funny.

Extra techniques for adding humour

  • Outlandish similes
  • The power of the outlandish simile
  • Sardonic description from an omniscient narrator 
  • References to well-known stories & tropes
  • The value of a really contrived pun.

How the ideals of comedy writing are the same as any dramatic writing

  • Foreshadowing and payoff – when the bucket placed over the door in chapter 1 falls in chapter 5.
  • Surprises, plot-twists and the heightening of tension.
  • Allowing the reader to think they’re one step ahead of the writer.
  • Allowing the reader to make up their own jokes, draw their own conclusions.
  • Seeing our own morality vindicated – the bad guy squished, the heroine rewarded unexpectedly.
  • The telling of a joke and the rounding off of a good story are the same thing – a sense of narrative completeness.
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