Last night I had the first draft of the first ep of my comedy web series read at the London Comedy Writers group.
Before I get into that though I have to let you know that as I am writing this I’m seated at the British Library (free wi-fi) jammed between two people talking incessantly on Skype, so if I suddenly drop in the odd bit of Spanish or corporate jargon don’t worry, I haven’t suddenly developed turrets it’s just one of the many occupational hazards of writing in public spaces.
Anyhoo, back to the sketch … well to start off with I’m happy to say I avoided the “up til 3am re-writing” hell that I’ve managed to fall into before. I came close but saw the writing on the wall and stepped away ASAP. Previously I endlessly re-wrote a piece to the point that it just screamed to be put out of its misery. This time a brisk walk, a bit of house cleaning and visit to the gym helped to clear the cobwebs and got me back on track – gracias a Dios.
That said, I’m still having trouble realising on the page what I imagine the series (and style of comedy) to be. Ideas are great, they are never more fully-formed or beautifully crafted than when they appear in your head but as soon as you put them down on the page they turn into inept brain farts. It takes instinct, craft and lots of hard work to re-write it into something more palatable. And when you do it often bears no resemblance to what you first imagined. So what do you do? Go with this new creation or try vainly to capture that elusive image in your head? That’s where I’m at. I wrote something that was decent and (in parts) brought the funny but it’s no where near where I want it to be … yet.
First problem – I’m being too kind to my characters. I’m trying to make them too well-rounded – too well adjusted. I guess I’m wanting to avoid cliche stereotypes (the up-tight repressed Brit and the liberated worldly European) but after hearing the script read I realised that without some sort of anomaly or twist the character cease to be comic. Comic characters are by nature extreme in some degree (Black Adder is super-humanly sarcastic and witty, David Brent is a humongous vain sad wanker), so for the re-write I think I need to embrace the stereotypes, at least for the time being, until I find the particular characteristics that make my characters really sing. I also realised (upon hearing other people’s scripts) that what may seem old, tired or “done” to me might not to others.
The other main problem about the first ep is that it skims over several gags but doesn’t really hook into one in particular. The episode opens with a strong visual situational gag so it needs an equally strong follow-up to see it through. I’m part of the way there but have still got a way to go. I am hoping through that once I heighten the characters it will come more from them rather than from me forcing the plot.
I did discover a couple of lines that really zinged, which was great, especially seeing as they were right at key turning points in the script, so that tells me that those beats are working. The main thing that isn’t is the ending. I find comic endings hard. Especially on short pieces because you don’t have the benefit of half an hour or two hours to build to something. In a sketch the ending has to be just as punchy as the first hook and then some. Everyone is waiting on that one final punchline to bring the piece home. A tall order. Some people can pluck these out of the sky – these are the people I hate! The dynamic blue-sky talented bastards that they are. Me, I have to work at it – Perro que no camina, no encuentra hueso.
Zing! …. ugh.