Writing Comedy (Writing Handbooks)

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Conflict is the engine that makes every story go, even the funny ones, so build your central character around exaggerated, absurd or obtuse struggles.

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Chase your character up a tree and then set that tree on fire. Use all three of the key sources of conflict—character versus character, character versus environment and character versus itself—as opportunities for humor.

Remember that of these three, the character versus itself is the most emotionally engaging. Audiences relate when they see a character pulled in opposite directions by forces everyone experiences.

The Assbuster Presents: 7 Books About Writing and Performing Comedy

Safety versus freedom is an internal struggle we can all understand because we all want to feel safe but also want to feel free. Take a universal internal conflict like that and amplify it to comic proportions, or make your character ridiculously biased toward one side of the struggle, or split the struggle between two main characters who take their sides to silly extremes.

It has to have its own consistent logic and laws to make it feel real. Your audience has to be able to take it seriously enough to get swept up and want to follow along.

7 Books To Read If You Want To Write Comedy For a Living

Unlike a silly movie or TV show, reading requires a good bit of work from your audience, so you have to put a good bit of work into it. Then make that stuff funny. For example, much of the humor of the hilarious Complete Enchanter series by L. Sprague De Camp is built on the characters bumbling their way through the logic underlying the magical systems of various myths, legends and fictional worlds.


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Even the best one-line jokes are memorable because they seem to suggest a deeper meaning. Meaning is what makes stories feel relevant and valuable rather than just entertaining, so give some serious thought to what you are trying to say with your silly novel.

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It can lend a lot of clarity to your work to think about how you would describe its meaning if you had to reduce it to a single sentence. Many comedy stories are powerfully affecting because they are more than just hilarious. The Princess Bride by S. Comedy is a subjective thing.

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Consequently, the best you can do is write stuff that amuses you. Test your material on anyone willing to read it, and make sure that at least a couple of those folks are not your dear friends who will lie to you because they love you. The Assbuster is a busy man. There are a lot of books about comedy. I tend to stay away from the biographies — as much as I enjoy the stories, hero-worship only works for teenagers, and I prefer to spend my increasingly limited time developing my own style.

All of the volumes listed here include plenty of writing prompts and exercises, and are best read with a notebook and pen, or whatever writing tools ye techno-literate types prefer. The Comic Toolbox by Jon Vorhaus This is the book that convinced me to pursue this bizarre avocation.

How to Write Humor

This is a book to go through over and over, particularly whenever a block sets in. Want to branch out from stand-up and try writing a serious novel or a dramatic screenplay like Woody Allen, Steve Martin and others? Step by Step to Stand-Up Comedy by Greg Dean While a lot of comedy coaches evangelize for their own brand of funny, Greg Dean provides a very specific technique for rendering your own ideas as jokes, whatever they might be or whatever warped hybrid humor you might create.

Anyone can use it, and math and logic nerds will get off on it, hard. Dean also includes authoritative advice for performers, a quick detour through the weird world of Neuro-Linguistic Programming it cures stage fright and some humanizing anecdotes from his days as a warm-up act for the Chippendales. The New Comedy Writing by Gene Perret The title bites — it sounds like what would happen if you turned the rest of this list into magnetic poetry — but the exercises are top-shelf.