Two weeks ago Irv talked about two restaurant occurrences based on what happened to this writer. The humor and message grew out of that reality and many people responded positively. The theme worked so well I decided to push it even further the following week, but without the underpinnings of a strong narrative.
Bad decision, and I should have know better.
Last week’s therapy session scene was…should I admit it? Yeah, I will. My post was boring. And the responses and shares, or lack of them, certainly let me know that.
For me, humor grows out of realistic situations of cause and effect. If I don’t use that foundation, I end up writing unmotivated jokes and one-liners. Nothing wrong with that, except I’m not a gag writer.
More importantly, in real life I try to be kind in actions and words. I don’t like to be mean and I don’t like mean people. So writing a scene of mean spirited dialogue with lectured philosophy sandwiched in the middle will fall flat.
And it did, last week. Oh boy. I learned, or was reminded of, four important writing lessons which I will share with you here.
- As I said: telling a good tale is more compelling than writing a string of jokes.
You can set up a scenario on Mars where werewolves make love to a teen princess a thousand years in the future. We’ll join your ride if you describe emotions and behaviors that ring true and are identifiable. If you don’t do that, if you don’t supply enough realistic behavior, even if it’s satire representing real behavior, it’s much harder to connect with your readers. They have to fill in too many blanks. It’s your ride but they’re doing the peddling.
- Snappy or funny dialogue should carry underlying meanings.
Remarks can be humorous because of their surprise factor, but if they don’t convey intentions beyond the obvious, it’s weak one-dimensional comedy. Meaning, it’s boring. Your readers are ahead of you with a So-what? thought. That, you don’t want.
- An antagonist character can be offensive and still be funny as long as that character is honestly expressing who he/she is, without an intention to harm others.
Two weeks ago Irv’s shrink began to unravel and spew suppressed feelings about his work and his patients. It was a reveal of his own failuresand inadequacies projected onto others. The readers understood that. The scene was funny.
The following week I repeated the style but it came off as a personal attack against Irv. Well, it was. What had been bubbling feelings of fear the previous week became crude insults for the sake of low-brow humor. Even Irv threw back a put-down. All that was a TURN-OFF.
Being mean is not Irving Podolsky. Why would you care about him if he were, or anyone who is mean? Sometimes people can’t help being abrasive even when they mean well, or think they mean well. Those characters we forgive because we can identify with them. We all vent frustrations. But no one wants to identify with an asshole who’s out to kill another soul’s spirit.
- Share your material with others and ask for their opinions.
I didn’t do it this time. I should have. Comedy is more difficult to write in a vacuum, which is why TV sit-coms and comedy movies are thought out in teams and stand-up comicsshape their work in front of audiences. (Testing a work-in-progress monologue takes guts. But so does publishing un-reviewed work on the internet.)
I could mention beats and rhythm and sentence structure set-ups but plenty of books have been written about that. The basic lesson I learned from last weeks publication was this:
Stay true to your nature, tell a good yarn and don’t be mean.