Have you ever tried to write a funny, quirky, maybe a little off-beat romantic scene in your story? I don’t want to be a comedy writer. But, I do want to be able to lift a ‘nice’ scene into something special and memorable, using humour. I’m not talking about funny lines or going the way of slapstick comedy.
I’ve often felt that writers were at a disadvantage when it came to writing humour. A comedian has a presence on stage, and the build-up starts off stage. The performance is much more than physical and goes beyond words.
As a writer you need to keep this in mind when including humour in their story. Like the stage comedian, your central character must exude a presence on the page, and once you give them a belief platform and a value system you have something you can work with. Once you’ve established these platforms and values early in your story, the stronger will be the build-up scenes.
I thought about two comedies featuring Reese Witherspoon – Sweet Home Alabama and Legally Blonde. Neither of them was hilariously funny minute by minute, but what they did have was a really good story.
What did the writers use in their bag of tricks?
- They built their characters up to expect the exact opposite of what occurs.
In Sweet Alabama, Reese Witherspoon’s character, Melanie, has left the backwater hometown for New York for a very different future. At the end of the story, Melanie discovers her husband, Jake, runs and owns a very successful glassblowing company. This was the EXACT OPPOSITE to what she was expecting from someone coming from her backwater hometown. The humorous scenes are the build-up scenes.
- They milked their characters intimacy
We’re often told to push our protagonists as far as they can go, and then go further. The same applies with writing with humour, you need to push buttons and boundaries with their beliefs and values. This is the time to listen for the voice in your head which tells you not to go there – GO THERE and discover the consequences.
Remember the fake orgasm in the cafe scene from ‘When Harry Met Sally’? The writers pushed their vulnerable characters into painful situations where their truth is exposed. They found the humour and built on it. Same with the zipper scene in ‘Something About Mary’.
Where to start:
When you have a character working hard at achieving their goals, there are certain tasks they must perform in order to achieve their goal. List those tasks – go as in-depth as you like and put down as many tasks that your character is likely to work with. Then, make another list of things you don’t associate with those tasks – then select the most interesting associations. To help with the process, remember to use:
Who: Why: What: Where: and What.
When you have the idea, the set-up and a few good lines to begin, walk away – go out and PLAY. Put on your favourite piece of music that gets your mind into a playful frame of mind, play and engage with children if you can, play a game with someone, but get your mind in the right place so that the lightness and playfulness needed, is there, because it can help you to create a humorous scene. A humorous scene is much more than the punch line – you want your reader to do a little more than smile, you want them to laugh, and remember that scene.
When we write our stories we want the reader to connect with our characters and their situation. Humour gives us a chance to highlight the truth and the meaning behind our story. It answers the question for the reader of why we wanted to write our story with these characters.