[Write On Wednesday] What A Laugh

It’s one thing to be funny in conversation with friends, but writing comedy can seem harder, somehow. Today we’ll try out some techniques to make our funny stories funnier.

This prompt is adapted from ideas in The Hidden Tools of Comedy: The Serious Business of Being Funny by Steve Kaplan, which was recommended to me by StoryADay veteran, Almo Schumann.

The Prompt

Give your character permission to go after their desire, no matter what the cost


Kaplan says,

Comedy gives your character in the narrative the permission to win. Comedy gives them the permission to do what they need to do in a moment of crisis, even if it makes them look like a bad guy or an idiot.

Kaplan, Steven. The Hidden Tools of Comedy: The Serious Business of Being Funny (p. 45). Michael Wiese Productions. Kindle Edition.

  • Give your character a desire, something they are willing to go all-out for (what makes Marty McFly so funny in Back To The Future? That he’s willing to do anything to get home, no matter how difficult or ridiculous, from fighting the town bully to seducing his own mother — well, almost. He’s willing to give it a try– to prat-falling over fences and doorways in his haste to get out of awkward situations. None of this is ‘funny stuff’ in a vacuum, it all grows out of the character’s single-minded desire to achieve his aim, no matter what the cost to his ego.
  • Put your character in a situation where they are going to have to do things they wouldn’t normally do, if they really want to achieve that desire (e. g. in The Life Of Brian, our hero is a nobody who wants to be somebody and get the girl, who happens to be a revolutionary. When her leader tells him to graffiti the town square and is caught by the school-master-like centurian,  the consequence is funny because it goes so far, so big. Literally.)
  • Make sure your character doesn’t have any of the skills they would need if they were going to be a traditional hero character. Marty, in BTTF, knows nothing about life in 1955. Monty Python’s Brian is so timid, so far from being a revolutionary, that every situation he finds himself in is inherently funny. If either of these characters possessed the skills they needed to win, their movies would have been dramas or action movies, instead of comedies!
  • Make your funny character believe in themselves. They are not a character. They are a person, who are trying to achieve something. Everything they say or do, they should believe in. It might turn out to be inappropriate for the situation, but for some reason, they believe it and they believe it is a useful thing to say or do right now.
  • Comedy can also result when a character does the thing that we, because we are so polite and a credit to our mothers, would never say or do. How would the people around your character react in that moment?

For more on writing humor, read my interview with Lisa Doan at NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers’ Program blog.

Then leave a comment below, to let us know how your writing went today.


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