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Writing Sketch Comedy for Dummies
Steps to Sketch Comedy Writing
To all of those people out there who are funny, or think you're funny, and would like to know more about sketch comedy writing, or you're bored and this was the only thing to read, you've come to the right place. Whether you sincerely wish to know more about sketch writing, are a comedian looking for ways to write new material or are just taking a look around, I will teach you the basics of sketch comedy writing and how to improve your skills. Now, let's start with the basics of sketch comedy writing.
Lesson 1: Improvisational Writing and Monologues
The first basic skill you must acquire when writing sketch comedy, is Improvisation (Improv.) Writing. If you can't Improvise your writing, you have no business writing. Start out with a few simple exercises to get this skill at its best.
One exercise you can do, is something I like to call, "The One Word Dictionary Game". With this game you take a dictionary, close your eyes, and pick out a random word. Without looking at the meaning of the word, write for two minutes on whatever your word is and what you think it should be.
I'll do this exercise with you so you have an idea of what should be happening with your writing. So, I just flipped through the dictionary and received the word "Pulpo." Now I will continue to write for two minutes about what I think "Pulpo" means. Remember, this should be strictly a fictional story. When you're two minutes are up, scroll down to see what I came up with. Ready? Go!
Okay, two minutes are up! My word was "Pulpo" and here's what I came up with...
'Allan Hayes is a cop. Not just any cop, a blue cop. Yes, Allan Hayes is a SMURF COP. Fighting crime on the streets of Smurfville. Today was a hard day for Allan, his long time crush Smurfette was just picked up for prostitution. He was crushed; for years he and Smurfette would go down to the pulpo after work and have a few drinks, talk about life and love. This was before she got fired from her real estate job. I guess that's what you get for trying to sell mushroom houses. The pulpo was their favorite place to go; that's where they first met. His eyes met hers, she tried selling him weed, he turned her down...In some way, he should have known.'
And that's the dictionary game! This technique can be done with any form of text, novel, brochure, receipt, poetry, science book.
If you found this game difficult or would like an alternative to it, another game you can play to get your Improv. Writing skills up there is simple Improv. Writing itself.
Get a group of friends together (no more than four) and write one word at a time on a piece of paper and pass that paper around the circle. So person 1 would write a word then hands the paper to person 2. Person 2 would then write a word that compliments the first word and passes the paper to person 3 and so on and so forth. Do this for five minutes and try to come up with a story.
The first time I did this with my group of friends we ended up with a story about a flying horse who saves the world from falling refrigerators and sparkles. In the end he gave birth to baby scallops in which he ate. The stories will be weird and odd and may not make sense; that's okay. This is just the beginning. Always remember with Improv. Writing, you can't think about what you're going to write. You just do it. It's like having a really bad impulse for Chipotle at two o'clock in the morning but you can't do anything about it because they close at 11.
Once you put you're word on the paper, don't go back and change it because it forces the next person to think of something strange to put down, and it continues down the line. Improv. Writing is just like Improv. but on paper. In Improv. you have the basic rule of YES. If you say yes to everything, then it forces the scene to continue. YES, AND... is even better. If you say YES, AND...it not only forces the scene to continue, but it forces the scene to continue while heightening. In other words, making the scene better. We'll get into heightening a scene in the next couple articles, but for now let's just focus on the basics.
Next up, is Monologue. Having a good sense on how to write a monologue is very important. When writing anything that has to do with characters (i.e. screenplays, books, sketch) you have to really know your characters. You have to know your characters better then you know yourself.
You have to know things from the basics (i.e. hometown, where they went to college, where they live now, what their career is, how they got into that career, religion, vegetarian?, income, race, democrat or republican, single or married, kids? if so, how many, names?) to the finite things (i.e. favorite food, pets? how many, names?, favorite colour, what kind of toothpaste do they use, what style of clothes do they wear, into sports?) Every little detail about your characters matters because it sets the whole basis for your story. If you don't know your characters, how do you expect your audience to know them? Every detail matters, even if you don't use all of them.
Now, for this Monologue exercise, I want you to pick a name for a character and brainstorm about them (you may use my list from above) and get to know them on a personal level. After you've done that, write for two minutes, a monologue about this character.
Remember, do this with each and every character you have so you get a well rounded perspective on the people you're writing about. The main goal is to not push yourself to be funny. NEVER TRY TO BE FUNNY. That is when failure comes. Laughter should always come naturally.
That's all I have for now; stay close to learn more about sketch comedy writing. There are more lessons to come!