To celebrate the recent release of her new book Oh, I Do Like To Be..., we asked author Marie Phillips to give us some of her top tips when it comes to writing comedy! Here's what she had to say...
1. Know your genres. Comedy isn't just one monolithic laugh-beast. Are you writing satire, farce, pastiche, screwball, parody, cringe comedy, slapstick? Knowing what type of comedy you're writing helps you know whether what you need right now is a slip on a banana skin or a pithy quip, whether to write with affectionate observation or vicious critique.
2. Two heads may be better than one. There's a reason why many of the most successful comedy writers are teams of two - from French and Saunders to Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer. Sometimes the best comedy comes from making each other laugh. Plus good comedy comes from getting out of your comfort zone, and having a writing partner can take you to places you wouldn't otherwise go.
3. Start with character. Most comedy is about the contrast between who a person thinks they are and who they actually are. Look around you: pretty much everybody is delusional. Ideally your character is someone who desperately wants something but because of a flaw in their personality they will never get it. Incidentally, this rule is exactly the same for tragedy.
4. Now plot. Comedy is one of the most story-heavy styles of writing because you constantly need to put your characters into situations that will frustrate them. But the story needs to happen for a reason. Ideally the personalities of your characters will drive them into the predicaments they find themselves in, and then the way they react to their plight will push them into new and even more stressful, which is to say funny, circumstances.
5. Keep it real. No matter how surreal your comedy is, if people don't believe in it they will not find it funny. Your zany world needs to have its own internal logic, your crazy characters need to make sense within themselves. Once you are fully inhabiting the universe you have created, the jokes will come naturally.
6. It's a game of contrasts. Juxtaposition is your friend. One character in a place they don't belong, two characters stuck together who cannot stand each other.
7. Push it. Write the funniest jokes that you can, go to the extremes, trample all over boundaries. But this means being unusual and original, not being offensive for the sake of it. Sexism, racism, ableism, homophobia: far from being edgy or dangerous, that kind of comedy tends to be lazy and predictable.
8. Use your instincts. You will have an innate sense of which is funnier, soup or sandwiches, chickens or turkeys. You don't need to understand it or explain it. Just follow the funny.
9. Read aloud. Everyone is afraid of not having enough jokes, but there is also such a thing as too many. Even if you aren't writing for performance, reading your work out loud, even alone to yourself, will help you figure out whether you have the rhythm right.
10. Now rewrite. Your reader or audience will not be forgiving of slack or sloppy writing. All your lame jokes have to come out and be replaced with better ones. But don't forget that a joke that you once loved may get tired once you've read it 100 times. Try to remember what made you laugh when you were first writing, and leave those jokes alone.
11. (It's one louder than 10.) Enjoy yourself. Writing comedy is the most fun there is. Make yourself laugh and everyone will want to laugh with you.
Oh, I Do Like To Be... by Marie Phillips is available now.
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