Understanding How Comedy Works

what are you laughing at…Which is, you know, kind of important if you’re writing it. Recently, several of TVWriter™’s comedy writing friends (industry biggies, baby!) independently recommended this book as well for fledgling humorists/writers to get a handle on what it is exactly that they’re supposed to be doing. So we thought we’d pass it on:

The book is called What Are You Laughing At? and it’s written by Dan O’Shannon, MODERN FAMILY producer who knows his away around the funny, as somebody who prefers to remain anonymous for obvious reasons (but is otherwise a funny dood himself) has said to us. The Amazon description gets to the heart of the matter:

If you’re looking for a book that will teach you how to write comedy, we suggest you keep moving. You still have time to pick up a copy of Writing Big Yucks for Big Bucks before the store closes. However, if you want to understand the bigger picture — what is comedy, why do we respond to it the way we do — then you’ve come to the right place.

What Are You Laughing At? presents an entirely new approach to comedy theory. It challenges long-held beliefs and shows how the three main theories of comedy (incongruity, superiority, and relief) are not in conflict; but rather, work as parts of a larger model. There are many examples pulled from the author’s own experiences, writing for shows such as Cheers, Frasier, and Modern Family. By the end, you’ll have an understanding of just what happens when man meets comedy. It will change the way you hear laughter.

The theory of comedy! What could be more worthwhile? Check it out! (And no, TVWriter™ isn’t gonna get a pfennig if you click “Buy.” Not our style, gang, as you know.)

Advice for young writers

We’re talking to you, kids!

babywritingby Nathan Bransford

I often receive e-mails from young writers in high school and even younger, and I’m always so impressed with them and even a little bit jealous. I had no idea I wanted to be a writer when I was in high school and I rue all those years I could have spent honing my craft. And even if Ihad known I wanted to be a writer, I didn’t have the Internet to reach out to other authors and learn more about what it takes to write a novel.

These young people are getting such a head start on their careers, and I can’t wait to see the incredible books they produce.

There’s a long tradition of writers offering advice to young writers, perhaps none greater than Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.I can’t top that, but here’s my own modest contribution to the genre.

Here’s my advice for young writers:

Don’t write for the writer you are now. Write for the writer you’re going to become.

Writers aren’t born, they are made. It takes most writers years and years to hone their craft, and it’s helpful to have had years and years of reading experience now. By the time you’ve reached high school you have lived enough to have tasted the world and it may feel like you’re ready to channel it all into a novel, but don’t expect that your writerly success will come immediately.

Yes, there are occasional wunderkinds that defy this rule. But even S.E. Hinton, who published The Outsiders when she was sixteen, had already written several novels before that one.

Within the publishing industry, you won’t be judged based on your age, you’ll be judged against other writers who have spent years and even decades writing. Being good for your age isn’t enough. You have to be good period, and it’s difficult to achieve that level with limited experience.

Don’t judge your writing success by whether you’re able to find publication immediately. Instead, write to get better, write for catharsis and practice and fun. Your future self will be thankful for the time well spent.

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Leesa Dean: Having a Hard Time Finishing a Script? This Might Be Why

Adventures of a Web Series Newbie – Chapter 69
by Leesa Dean

perfect1I am a perfectionist. You might not know it from my work, but it’s a trait that I and a lot of other writers/creatives share. Being a perfectionist can drive you crazy and can set up situations where you never ever finish anything. Which will also drive you crazy cause never finishing is like failing. Argh.

It is not atypical for me to write over 20 drafts of a script and continue to pick at it, even after I’ve submitted it or started production. Some people never finish. They’re like Sisyphus. Pushing that script up a hill and never getting there.

Luckily, when you’re writing for the web, because everything is short form and sorta disposable with insane deadlines and an unquenchable thirst for content, it forces you to just finish and not look back. Which, trust me, is the healthiest thing to do.

Even so, it’s easy to get stuck drafting and redrafting till you’re nowhere. Here are five things that have worked for me, helped me finish and move on more quickly:

1 -Don’t take yourself or your project too seriously – The more you feel obligated to do the Very.Best.Thing.You’ve.Ever.Written, the greater the chances are you’ll never finish and spend the rest of eternity tweaking. Bottom line, there’s less pressure and it frees you up a bit.

2- Have a TON of irons in the fire – I can’t stress this enough. When you put all your eggs in one basket it becomes the Most Important Project in History. Do you really want to be responsible for screwing that up? I don’t. Juggling a bunch of projects takes some of the pressure off each individual one and, because you’re so busy, you literally don’t have time to over-tweak. This year I’m working on Season 2 of the Lele Show, two brand new series, a short plus my weekly radio show which I write, record and produce. I literally don’t have time to agonize over every word.

3 – Set time limits – I do this all the time. Give myself, say, a week to finish a script. Even if I’m a little late, it forces me to see the endgame and finish quickly.

4 – Outline Outline Outline – I write everything down as an outline first. Yes, even for 2 -3 minute web pieces. Then slowly build the outline into a script. If you have an outline, you know the beginning middle and end of your script and it’s a lot easier to fill in spaces with juicy dialogue and not get caught up with specific lines.

5 – Make sure you write a minimum of five days a week – I try and write every day. In the summer, I take weekends off, unless I have a deadline. It might seem counter intuitive, but the more you write, the less invested you become in every single word and the more likely it is you’ll finish.

Hope these tips are helpful. See ya next week everybody.

Peggy Bechko: Into the Heart of Darkness

A_Kitten_for_Hitler

by Peggy Bechko

Our fiction writing, whether it be novels, short stories, screen scripts or whatever, needs good guys and bad guys. Either one can be very tricky, but for now let’s tackle the villain.

How easy is it to make your villain an unrepentant, painted-black totally negative figure with absolutely no redeeming features who no one can stand to be around? How easy is it to make it so that that ‘bad guy’ (or woman) makes very choice on the dark side, is so vile and depraved that he or she feels no remorse for what’s been done – ever – doesn’t car who gets hurt and manipulates and exploits every person, plant or animal that gets in the way?

Too easy.

Yep, at that point the writer has created a character who is so negative, so isolated, so unempathetic and terrible, so unbalanced that that character causes the reader (of book or script) to disconnect. Why? Because in real life the reader wouldn’t be able to grasp what anyone would see in this character. The reader can’t relate at all to that kind of villain’s goals or needs. And who the heck would care about his or her desires? No, this character has gone over the edge (egged on by the writer). This character can ruin your whole story.

What, you say? A serial murderer is a dark and tainted soul. Yep, that’s right, but if you’ll remember, most times that serial murder has a kitten, or he stops in the street to help an old lady across (presuming his target isn’t old ladies) or in his spare time he writes poetry or builds ships in bottles.

When you supply a dark character (no matter how unlikeable a character you’ve created) with a positive or redeeming attribute or two, something totally at odds with the ‘dark side’ of that character’s nature, you pen a more realistic and intriguing character.

Of course you don’t want your reader to applaud and cheer for the villain of your piece, but you do want to draw them into the story, get them to dig deep into their own psyches and understand, or make some attempt at it, what made him the dark soul that he is. When you create your darker characters don’t hesitate to reveal quirks, passions or sensitivities, maybe even amusing neuroses. Choose something, or maybe several somethings (but don’t go overboard) and let the reader into the mind of your characters. In the case of scripts you have to give visuals so the ‘reader’ is inclined to pass your script along but the tips here hold true.

Always look for balance. The ‘scales’ can tip back and forth, but if you, as the writer, don’t create a world and characters the readers can relate to in some fashion, then you lose them. And losing them isn’t good.

So, consider this post a reminder. Make your characters human. Even the dark and nasty ones. Most ‘bad guys have had family (they didn’t spring from an egg somewhere), possibly friends and pets; maybe the love of music or watercolors.

Give them a spark of light and all that darkness will be even more intense and intriguing.

Now go create a real villain, one who when he goes down you ask, “but who’s going to take care of the kitten?”

munchman: Oscar Winner Diablo Cody Gives Us All Some Advice

…And we’re publishing it cuz let’s face it, Oscar-winning writers have a tendency to know a helluva lot more about writing than mere munchmen:

diablo codyby Rachel Simon

To some people, Diablo Cody disappeared off the face of the earth sometime in 2008, right after she won an Oscar for penning JunoSure, they might’ve heard something about a new movie here or there, but when nothing became as big asJuno, they (wrongly) assumed Cody left Hollywood. To those who’ve paid attention, though, it’s clear that the filmmaker has been everywhere these last few years: writing, directing, producing (not to mention giving birth to two kids) and, most recently, sharing her secrets with Glamour’s Cindi Leive about building an “unconventional career path” and what lessons she has for women looking to have their own Juno-like breakthroughs. All ladies, whether filmmakers or not, should take note; these are coming from the woman who’s making a rock star movie with Meryl Streep, after all. Cody’s best pieces of advice:

#1. DON’T PICK A FAKE NAME UNTIL YOU’RE READY

The woman born as Brook Busey-Maurio changed her name early on in her career, when she was just beginning to blog and wasn’t yet a published author. She chose a “cool and intimidating” pseudonym for the purpose of Internet anonymity, but looking back, making the change so early, before she was established as a writer, “was honestly such a mistake.”

#2. IF YOU’RE NOT HAPPY WITH YOUR LIFE, CHANGE IT

Cody knew she wanted to be a writer since she was a child, but when she graduated from college, she found herself working at an ad agency. And despite the “safety net” of her job and the feeling that it was what she was supposed to be doing, she decided to take a leap.

“I wanted to do something totally different and unexpected and scary,” she said. So she wrote.

#3. SAY YES

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How to Self-Publish a Book

We here at TVWriter™ understand that writing is writing, regardless of the medium, and that many, if not most, of our visitors aren’t just looking to make it as television writers but also to make it as writers, period. So we mightily glad we found this article for all you little book novelists out there.

(No, we’re not making fun of you in any way. We’re referencing Sly Stallone’s acceptance speech when he won the Best Screenplay Oscar for the original ROCKY film and dedicated it to “All you little Rockys out there!” Of course, he probably was mocking aspirants everywhere, but that was him and this is…us, know what we mean?) Anyway:

sortofapublishingpicby Ian Lamont

Twenty years ago, if you were a new author interested in getting your book published, you had to shop it around with publishers and hope that someone, eventually, might not reject you. But nowadays you can choose to self-publish anything you’d like. Here’s how.

In the old dynamic of getting your book in print, authors basically had three options:

  • Send a manuscript to publishers. If you were lucky, an editor at one of the big publishing houses would have plucked it from the so-called “slush pile” of unsolicited manuscripts. Your publishing contract may have included an “advance,” a sum of money that will be paid back with royalties earned from the sale of your book. The royalty rate? About 8-10% for mass market paperbacks.
  • Commission an agent to shop around your manuscript. A good agent would be able to get your book in front of the right people at the right publishing houses (for a price).
  • Have a vanity press handle publishing. You would send in your manuscript, and pay a large fee to get several hundred copies published. It would be up to you to sell them… or give them away.

That was then, this is now. The rise of tablets and the launch of self-publishing platforms have made it possible for anyone to release their own book to the world, without going through the traditional gatekeepers or costly vanity presses.

However, it’s still easy to get burned with self publishing. I learned some of the pitfalls, ripoffs and mistakes the hard way, when I began publishing the In 30 Minutes series of how-to guides in 2012. Since then, I have started a small publishing company and have heard from lots of newbie authors who are unsure about how to get started.

Whether you have a fiction masterpiece, a biography, nonfiction work or children’s book, these pointers will help you navigate the brave new world of self-publishing.

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