WRITING COMEDY AND HOW TO DO IT
You’re here so I assume, at some point, you’ve considered writing comedy?
Speaking from experience humour is one of the most rewarding genres to write in. However, it’s also one of the most difficult to crack, but don’t let that put you off.
Can anybody write funny stories?
Some would say no – but I disagree.
Anyone can be funny. Don’t think “I’m not a funny person.” It doesn’t matter if you’re the clown of the party or the shy person in the corner. We’re all funny in our way, and even the most bashful can write rib-tickling stuff.
So, unsure where to start?
Then read on and I’ll give you some insight into how *I* work.
My approach to writing comedy
There are a few things I consider when writing in this genre. Yes, you can put humour into any story, but when I’m concentrating on getting laughs, I do the following:
- Write a strong story
- Make dialogue my primary place of the comedy
- Write unlikable characters, but make them likeable
- Write down ANYTHING I hear
So, what do I mean by all the above?
Make the story strong
Yes, you’re reading that right. With any book, if you don’t have an engaging story to tell, you’ve lost the audience. Would you stick with something that was ambling along because it’s punctuated with a few zingy one-liners?
I know I wouldn’t. A book should hook you.
If readers are engrossed, you’ll get away with a few duff lines. A reader enjoying a story is more likely to groan and smile at a lousy piece of wordplay. If you’re boring them, then it will make them put the book down for good.
You need to tell a story and make it relatable. The description should have a delicate balance of humour in it, but don’t overdo it. Sometimes explaining something can be funny but it can kill it too.
Try and make the reader feel as if they are ‘there‘, watching it happen.
Also, stick in some pathos.
If sad or bad things happen to characters, it enriches your writing. You’ll find that humour and sadness work well together.
So, it’s essential to:
- Make the story strong and interesting
- Put humour in the description, but
- Tug at the heartstrings with a pinch of pathos
You have to balance it just right, especially when it comes to my next point…
Comedy in dialogue
This is the central hub for any comedy writer. Be it in books, on the radio or on screen. It’s the bread and butter. Slapstick works on TV and, to an extent, in a book, but the dialogue is where it flies. You need funny situations, but you need to make character interactions funny too, but remember, if you base the comedy on just the dialogue you’ll end up writing a series of sketches.
So, what is my number one rule when I write dialogue?
The conflict between characters, I find, is a sound basis for comedy. Making characters get angry helps to bounce the comedy around. It also creates situations all by themselves, so you’ll be killing two birds with one stone.
Believe me, when you’re a writer, ideas come from left-field, and I tend to find my best ideas come from the dialogue itself.
You only need to look at TV shows. One of my favourites is Red Dwarf. It works so well because of the friction, primarily, between the characters of Lister and Rimmer, especially in the early series. Lister is irritated by Rimmer being completely anal, and Lister annoys Rimmer because he’s a complete slob with no drive.
They’re trapped together, 3 million years into deep space, and go against each other’s moral code, ergo, it works completely.
Look at the situation. What’s interesting about a mining ship in deep space?
Not much on the face of it, but the characters and the friction create humour, add funny dialogue, and it flies.
For me, the friction adds to the comedy, and it happens over and over in almost every sit-com you see. That’s why it’s always good to have characters irritate each other. True, one-liners and sight gags add to the mix (the latter in visual comedy) and that, for me, is why I love this show. Adding a vain Cat and a neurotic droid to the mix just ups the humour.
Which brings me to my next point…
Write unlikable characters, but make them likeable
That sounds ridiculous, I know. However, even characters that are complete gits can turn out the best, comically.
Take Arnold Rimmer from Red Dwarf, Edmund Blackadder, Father Ted and Alan Partridge. You shouldn’t like these characters (maybe you don’t, but many do) because they’re all, fundamentally, not very nice people.
In my Bumpkinton books, I have some unlikable characters, but my favourite ones are Amelia Goose and Marjorie Fairfax. They are petty and enjoy complaining about things that aren’t important and mundane.
Amelia and Marjorie are friends, but they antagonise each other. So, I add friction into the mix, and they become quite likeable. Yes, Amelia’s way of speaking is annoying, but she’s so pathetic there’s also something endearing about her too.
I decided to give these two characters a sad past, to humanise them, so a reader can understand why they are the way they are. It makes them more likeable, and their petty squabbling becomes par for the course and something to look forward to in the next story.
Writing Comedy from real-world experience
The last (or sometimes first) thing I do is write down ANYTHING funny that I hear. Whether I’m with friends or eavesdropping on the conversation at the next table in a restaurant – if somebody says something funny, I’ll write it down.
Comedy is around us every day and if you let it go by you may miss something that’ll hook a reader.
In my story, The Bachelor, I use a line my partner overheard in school. A student said: “Miss, just look at her skirt. If it gets any shorter, she’ll have another two cheeks to powder.”
That was too good a line not to use and it fitted perfectly into the Singles Night theme of the story.
Become great at writing comedy
So, now it’s over to you. Whether you’re an author, new to writing or even if you’ve never picked up a pen. Why not have a go at writing comedy? I know what I like, maybe your brand of comedy is different, but it’ll appeal to a number of readers.
If you’d like to read more about putting humour into your writing, there’s an excellent piece on the Readers Digest website called How to Mix Humor Into Your Writing and an even better article by William H Coles on humour & fiction on the website Story in Literary Fiction.
They expand on some of my points, as well as add further insight into what works and what doesn’t.
This is my way of writing comedy, you’ll find your own.
As Terry Pratchett once said: “Writing is the most fun you can have by yourself!“