Writing Specific Genres: Comedy

Comedy is a great genre to write for. It is one of the few genres that is in constant demand from producers, along with action movies. Comedy films tend to be cheap to make, do at least moderately well at the box office and are enjoyable projects for actors to participate in.

The are 5 key considerations to make when planning and scriptwriting your comedy movie. If you follow them you’ll have covered the basics needed to create a good comedy screenplay.

1. Write Comedy That Makes You Laugh

Scriptwriters tend to be their own biggest critics. That is why you should always make sure that your screenplay makes you laugh, in the appropriate way of course. It is helpful, after finishing the first draft, to take a week off and avoid thinking about your screenplay at all. It then becomes a lot easier to read through your screenplay subjectively after leaving this “breathing period”.

Although writing is often hard work writing comedy tends to be a lot lighter experience. If you find yourself laughing as you write then you know you’re on the right track. Comedy writing also becomes a whole lot easier if you write a movie with a comedy style most like your own. If you have a dry sense of humor don’t try writing a gross-out comedy, and vice versa.

2. Turn The TV Off…And Keep It Off!

When you’re looking for ideas try to avoid plucking them from TV shows. You tend to find, about halfway through the project, that the idea simply hasn’t got the legs to make a feature length film. Deriving ideas from TV also hinders your progression in developing your inner vision, a very important attribute for a scriptwriter.

Don’t try to become the writer of a feature length Friends-esque movie. That’s not your own unique vision. Don’t be a second rate imitator, be a first rate you.

3. Forget The Jokes

That might seem a totally absurd point for a comedy writer but it’s probably the most important of these five. Even if the basic idea for your story came from a joke remember that you very rarely hear jokes in movies. Jokes slow the story down and should be used very sparingly. Instead your comedy should come from…

4. Character And Timing

Instead of coming up with a hundred jokes to cram into your screenplay (most of which won’t fit with the story) think of a dozen or so situations that would be funny to put your main character in. If they’re a control freak put them in a situation where they’re bottom of the ladder, and surrounded by idiots.

Timing is very important too. You need to build up to the punchline of a scene carefully, otherwise it won’t get the big laugh the situation deserves. Tease a few different punchlines and then hit the audience with a punchline they weren’t expecting, or an expected punchline delivered in an unexpected manner.

5. Make A Step Sheet

A step sheet can be used when writing any script, but is perhaps most useful in writing comedy. Write down what happens in every scene in just a few sentences. The step sheet should act like a condensed version of your script. Keep the sentences brief, they’re not to tell or explain the jokes, they’re for story points and character points.

Each scene should advance both the story and character in a humorous way. If it doesn’t either get rid of the scene or rework it.

---

Comedy works best when you keep the audience in the mood. While it can be necessary to have an emotional scene try to keep it short and light or the comedy will get bogged down.

Keep it snappy, keep it funny.