“Total absence of humor renders life impossible.” Colette

            A strong story without a lot of laughs is preferable to a weak story with five jokes per page.
            Many comedies falter because of a flimsy or dimwitted plot. Ultimately, no matter how many laughs a script has, if the story isn’t absorbing enough for somebody to sink her teeth into, it won’t get read to the final Fade Out. As we’re laughing at things your characters are saying and doing, we must care about them and root for them to get whatever it is they want (no matter how goofy). If that want isn’t there we’re not going along for that ride no matter how amusing it might be.
            There’s an old maxim in baseball: “It’d rather be lucky than talented.” When it comes to a comedy screenplay, I’d rather have a solid story than plenty of laughs. Laughs can be put in. Maybe not by you, but if it’s a great story your chance of getting an agent or a deal has just gotten closer to the goal line. If you have a 103-page script with tons of laughs, but a mediocre story, well, it’s much more difficult to punch up a plot.
            Which is why The Third Rule of Writing Funny might be something to consider.
            Two heads can be better than one.
            Let’s say you’re a serious, reliable screenwriter with a clear understanding of not only the 3-Act Structure, but 5-Act and 7-Act structures, as well. You know that characters should be three-dimensional, have internal and external conflicts and be properly motivated.
            You’ve immersed yourself in Christopher Vogler so you know the 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey inside and out. You’ve read all the screenwriting books (especially mine, The Screenwriter Within), gone to the important seminars, studied, analyzed and deconstructed films, read the key biographies and autobiographies of screenwriters and subscribed to the best screenwriting magazines.
            There’s only one problem: you are incapable of writing a funny line of dialogue. Unfortunately, all the ideas you come up with are way too serious and downbeat (like that bio-pic on Damien the Leper you’ve been mulling over the three years).
            If you are this guy or woman, you need to get together with a certain kind of person. The off the wall, rapid fire, life of the party, grown up class clown who has the ability to write jokes, great set pieces and funny lines and is hilarious 24/7, but if his or her life depended on it, couldn’t come up with a story or write a script.
            It’s the perfect convergence of talent.
            Check the credits on sitcoms. You’ll find at least one and often two or three writing teams on every show. Same with screenplays. It’s fair to assume that most of these teams got together because they each brought their strength to the table.
            Finding your writing soul-mate isn’t easy. It’s like finding someone to marry. You have to look around, see how you get on and hope that it works. If it does work you’ll both be in a much better place than going it alone.
            

14 comments:

  1. Collaboration only works if one of the two people takes the leadership role and the other is essentially a second banana. Otherwise it'll be a class of ego's. But I agree that if two people find they can work together bettere than when working individually it can kill two birds with one stone.

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  2. I agree about the strong story being preferential to lots of jokes. The downside of this though is that if you're not "funny" trying to punch up the great story could be an exercise in futility. So a partner is a good idea. Then there's the problem of finding the right person. There's a lot of insane writers out there.

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  3. Perfect advice. I started a new script recently with a really funny concept. It's off the wall. I wrote 50 pages and it was dark, somber, sad, touching - but not funny. I wasn't happy about having ended up were I was and I usually find it depressing to have to start over, but I didn't want to let the idea go. So rather than begin at the beginning, I was struck by one very funny scene which not only gave me a good first scene for my main character, it also gave me the overall "tone" I wanted for the film. So now I'm not depressed about that anymore.

    Now I'm just depressed because I'm stuck on page 19.

    Your Pal,
    Roger

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  4. I collaborated with two different people. Both times we got deals and both times I ended up doing most of the work, but we had to split the money 50/50. That sucked. I don't collaborate anymore unless somebody brings something else to the table, like contacts.

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  5. I agree with the first point you make about scripts that are funny, but have a weak story. Audiences need a story. Agents, managers and producers reading scripts look for the story first, aka "The Big Idea." I've heard that Hollywood buys ideas. If the idea has legs, the script has a s hot

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  6. I like quotations from Colette. I agree with it being better to be lucky than talented.

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  7. 30 pages into what was supposed to be a comedy and I didn't get one laugh. I had the first act read aloud in my screenwriting class. Not one laugh. Not one. Everybody told me how powerful it was dramatically. I realized I'm a dramatist, not a comedy writer. Just what I need in the current Hollywood environment. A dramatist. Didn't that used to be called a tragedian?

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  8. You're right. I'm very funny. In life and on the page. I have major problems with story. Plot. Whatever. I've thought about finding a collaborator, but I don't know where to look. Most of the screenwriters I know are into their own scene and seem happy to be that way.

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  9. Writing funny for me is like pulling teeth. I can find the humor once I find the charactere, but until then I keep writing cheesey, stupid lines that don't reveal character, move the plot or even get a little smile.

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  10. I used to be a reader at a fairly decent production company specializing in comedies. You're so right. The scripts with laughs usually had a weak story. The scripts with a cool story were' funny enough. It's the story that carries the laughs, not the other way around.

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  11. I wish you had a twitter feed.

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  12. I'm new to the blog thing. After 3 weeks I figured out how to respond to you guys. Duh! For anyone who had a question that I didn't answer, I apologize. Twodele, my twitter feed is coming soon.

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  13. Collaboration saved my writing career. Not so much because I had a strength in one area and weakness in another, but because I needed a partner to motivate me. I can't imagine ever working alone again.

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